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"An illuminating 

account of how 

soldiers learn to kill 

and how they live 

with the experience 

of having killed." 

— Washington Post 



The Psychological Cost of 

Learning to Kill in 

War and Society 

Lt . Col. Dave Grossm 


The Psychological Cost of Learning 
to Kill in War and Society 

by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman 





Little, Brown and Company 

Boston New York Toronto London 

Copyright © 1995, 1996 by David A. Grossman 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any 
electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, 
without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may 
quote brief passages in a review. 

First Paperback Edition 

Permissions to use previously published material appear on pages 352-53. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Grossman, Dave. 

On killing : the psychological cost of learning to kill in war and 

society / Dave Grossman. — 1st ed. 
p. cm. 
Includes index. 

ISBN 0-316-33000-0 (he) 0-316-33011-6 (pb) 
1 . Combat — Psychological aspects. 2. Psychology, Military. 

3. Homicide — Psychological aspects. 4. Violence — Social aspects. 

5. Violence — Psychological aspects. I. Title. 

U22.3.G76 1995 

355'.0019 — dc20 


Illustrations by Mary Reilly 
10 9 8 7 6 


Published simultaneously in Canada by Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited 
Printed in the United States of America 


Not of the princes and prelates with periwigged charioteers 

Riding triumphandy laureled to lap the fat of the years, 

Rather the scorned — the rejected — the men hemmed in with spears; 

The men in tattered battalion which fights till it dies, 

Dazed with the dust of the battle, the din and the cries, 

The men with the broken heads and the blood running into their eyes. 

Not the be-medalled Commander, beloved of the throne, 
Riding cock-horse to parade when the bugles are blown, 
But the lads who carried the hill and cannot be known. 

Others may sing of the wine and the wealth and the mirth, 

The portly presence of potentates goodly in girth; — 

Mine be the dirt and the dross, the dust and scum of the earth! 

Theirs be the music, the colour, the glory, the gold; 

Mine be a handful of ashes, a mouthful of mould. 

Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain and the cold — 

Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tale be told. Amen. 

— John Masefield 
"A Consecration" 



Introduction to the Paperback Edition 




Section I Killing and the Existence of Resistance: 

A World of Virgins Studying Sex 

Chapter One Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit, 5 

Chapter Two Nonfirers Throughout History, 17 

Chapter Three Why Can't Johnny Kill? 29 

Chapter Four The Nature and Source of the Resistance, 37 

Section II Killing and Combat Trauma: The Role of 

Killing in Psychiatric Casualties 

Chapter One The Nature of Psychiatric Casualties: 

The Psychological Price of War, 43 

Chapter Two The Reign of Fear, 51 

Chapter Three The Weight of Exhaustion, 67 

Chapter Four The Mud of Guilt and Horror, 74 

Chapter Five The Wind of Hate, 76 

Chapter Six The Well of Fortitude, 83 

Chapter Seven The Burden of Killing, 87 

Chapter Eight The Blind Men and the Elephant, 94 



Section III Killing and Physical Distance: From a 

Distance, You Don't Look Anything Like 
a Friend 

Chapter One Distance: A Qualitative Distinction in 

Death, 99 

Chapter Two Killing at Maximum and Long Range: Never 

a Need for Repentance or Regret, 107 

Chapter Three Killing at Mid- and Hand-Grenade Range: 

"You Can Never Be Sure It Was You," 111 

Chapter Four Killing at Close Range: "I Knew That It Was 

up to Me, Personally, to Kill Him," 114 

Chapter Five Killing at Edged- Weapons Range: 

An "Intimate Brutality," 120 

Chapter Six Killing at Hand-to-Hand-Combat Range, 131 

Chapter Seven Killing at Sexual Range: "The Primal 

Aggression, the Release, and Orgasmic 
Discharge," 134 

Section IV An Anatomy of Killing: 

All Factors Considered 

Chapter One The Demands of Authority: Milgram and the 

Military, 141 

Chapter Two Group Absolution: "The Individual Is Not a 

Killer, but the Group Is," 149 

Chapter Three Emotional Distance: "To Me They Were Less 

than Animals," 156 

Chapter Four The Nature of the Victim: Relevance and 

Payoff, 171 

Chapter Five Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer: 

Avengers, Conditioning, and the 2 Percent 
Who Like It, 177 

Chapter Six All Factors Considered: The Mathematics of 

Death, 186 

Contents vii 

Section V Killing and Atrocities: "No Honor Here, 

No Virtue" 

Chapter One The Full Spectrum of Atrocity, 195 

Chapter Two The Dark Power of Atrocity, 203 

Chapter Three The Entrapment of Atrocity, 214 

Chapter Four A Case Study in Atrocity, 217 

Chapter Five The Greatest Trap of All: To Live with That 

Which Thou Hath Wrought, 222 

Section VI 

Chapter One 
Chapter Two 

The Killing Response Stages: What Does 
It Feel Like to Kill? 

The Killing Response Stages, 231 

Applications of the Model: Murder-Suicides, 
Lost Elections, and Thoughts of Insanity, 241 

Section VII Killing in Vietnam: What Have We Done 

to Our Soldiers? 

Chapter One Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam: 

Overcoming the Resistance to Killing, 249 

Chapter Two What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? The 

Rationalization of Killing and How It 
Failed in Vietnam, 262 

Chapter Three Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Cost 

of Killing in Vietnam, 281 

Chapter Four The Limits of Human Endurance and the 

Lessons of Vietnam, 290 

Section VIII 

Chapter One 
Chapter Two 

Killing in America: What Are We Doing 
to Our Children? 

A Virus of Violence, 299 

Desensitization and Pavlov's Dog at the 
Movies, 306 



Chapter Three B. F. Skinner's Rats and Operant 

Conditioning at the Video Arcade, 312 

Chapter Four Social Learning and Role Models in the 

Media, 317 

Chapter Five The Resensitization of America, 323 







War has always interested me; not war in the sense of maneuvers 
devised by great generals . . . but the reality of war, the actual 
killing. I was more interested to know in what way and under the 
influence of what feelings one soldier kills another than to know 
how the armies were arranged at Austerlitz and Borodino. 

— Leo Tolstoy 

I have been assisted in this study by a host of great men and women 
who have stood beside me and gone before me in this endeavor. 
These I do now gratefully acknowledge. 

To my wonderful and infinitely patient wife, Jeanne, for her 
staunch support; to my mother, Sally Grossman; and to Duane 
Grossman, my father and co-conspirator, whose many hours of 
help in research and concept made this book possible. 

To the Indian Battalion of Arkansas State University, the finest 
ROTC battalion in the U.S. Army. To my fellow soldier-scholars 
among the ROTC cadre, to all my dear friends among the staff 
and faculty at Arkansas State University, and particularly to Jan 
Camp, who helped much with preparing the final draft and getting 
quotation authorizations. And most of all to my young ROTC 
cadets at Arkansas State; it is currently my privilege to teach them, 
and my honor to initiate them into the way of the warrior. 

To Major Bob Leonhard, Captain Rich Hooker, Lieutenant 
Colonel Bob Harris, Major/Dr. Duane Tway, and that indomitable 
team, Harold Thiele and Elantu Viovoide: peers, friends, and fellow 
believers who have endured many a crude draft and contributed 
much time and effort to assisting and supporting me in this work. 

x Acknowledgments 

To Richard Curtis, my literary agent, who contributed signifi- 
cantly and then waited long and patiently for the completion of 
this work. And to Roger Donald and Geoff Kloske, my editors 
at Little, Brown and Company, who had faith in this book and 
then worked long and hard to help me to fine-tune it into a 
professional product. And to Becky Michaels, my publicist, a true 
professional who has been faithful during the hard part. 

To that magnificent group of soldier-scholars at the U.S. Military 
Academy whom I had the privilege of working with: Colonel 
Jack Beach, Colonel John Wattendorf, Lieutenant Colonel Jose 
Picart, and all the gang in the PL100 committee. And to that 
superb group of West Point cadets who volunteered to spend 
their summer conducting interviews, testing some of the theories 
presented in this book. 

To my fellow students at the British Army Staff College at 
Camberley, England, who provided me with one of the finest and 
most intellectually stimulating years of my life. 

To all of those remarkable soldiers who have molded, mentored, 
befriended, and commanded me, patiently giving of their wis- 
dom and experiences over twenty years: First Sergeant Donald 
Wingrove, Sergeant First Class Carmel Sanchez, Lieutenant Greg 
Parker, Captain Ivan Middlemiss, Major JefF Rock, Lieutenant 
Colonel Ed Chamberlain, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Everett, 
Colonel George Fisher, Major General William H. Harrison, and 
countless others to whom I owe so much. And to Chaplain Jim 
Boyle: Ranger buddy, friend, and true brother. For most of these 
this is not their current rank, but that was what they were when 
I needed them most. 

To Dr. John Warfield and Dr. Phillip Powell, at the University 
of Texas at Austin, who gave unselfishly of their wealth of wisdom 
and knowledge, while trusting me and letting me do it my way. 
And to Dr. John Lupo and Dr. Hugh Rodgers at Columbus 
College, in Columbus, Georgia, from whom I learned to love 

I also need to make special acknowledgment of the extensive 
use I have made of the recent and excellent books by Paddy 
Griffith, Gwynne Dyer, John Keegan, Richard Gabriel, and Rich- 
ard Holmes. Paddy Griffith was a boon mentor, friend, and com- 



panion during my stay in England, and along with Richard Holmes 
and John Keegan he is one of the world's true giants in this field 
today. And I particularly want to note that this study would have 
been much more difficult to complete without drawing on the 
tremendous body of insight and personal narratives collected in 
Richard Holmes's book Acts of War. Holmes's superb book will 
be the primary reference source for generations of scholars who 
study the processes of men in battle. My correspondence with him 
has confirmed that he is a gentleman, a gentle man, and a soldier- 
scholar of the highest order. 

And I need to recognize that one of this study's most valuable 
and unusual sources of individual narratives has been the pages of 
Soldier of Fortune magazine. The image of the traumatized Vietnam 
veteran being spit upon, insulted, and degraded upon return to 
the United States is not mythical, but based upon literally thousands 
of such incidents — as chronicled in Bob Greene's excellent book, 
Homecoming. In this environment of condemnation and accusation, 
many Vietnam veterans felt that they had only one national forum 
in which they could attain some degree of closure by writing of 
their experiences in a sympathetic and nonjudgmental environ- 
ment, and that forum was Soldier of Fortune magazine. To those 
who would prejudge this material and automatically reject anything 
coming from this quarter as mindless machismo, I ask that you 
read these narratives first. I am particularly indebted to Colonel 
Harris for his recommendation of this novel resource, and for the 
loan of his personal collection of these magazines. Most of all I 
need to thank Colonel (retired) Alex McColl, at Soldier of Fortune, 
for his support in using these quotes. It is good to know that there 
are still places where an officer is a gentleman, his word is his 
bond, and that is all that is required. 

Last, and most important, to all the veterans throughout history 
who have recorded their responses to killing, and to those in my 
own life who permitted me to interview them. To Rich, Tim, 
Bruce, Dave, "Sarge" (Arfl), the Sheepdog Committee (who still 
share a wonderful secret with me), and a hundred others who 
have shared secrets with me. And to their wives, who sat beside 
them and held their hands while they wept and told of things they 
had never told before. To Brenda, Nan, Lorraine, and dozens of 

xii Acknowledgments 

others. All those who spoke with me have been promised anonym- 
ity in return for their secret thoughts, but my debt to them is such 
that it can never be paid. 

To all of these I wish to say thank you. I do truly stand on the 
shoulders of giants. But the responsibility for the report given from 
this august height is stricdy my own. Thus, the views presented 
here do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of 
Defense or its components, the U.S. Military Academy at West 
Point, or Arkansas State University. 

David A. Grossman 
Arkansas State University 
Jonesboro, Arkansas 

A Brief Note Concerning Gender 

War has often been a sexist environment, but death is an equal 
opportunity employer. Gwynne Dyer tells us: 

Women have almost always fought side by side with men in guerrilla 
or revolutionary wars, and there isn't any evidence they are signifi- 
cantly worse at killing people — which may or may not be comfort- 
ing, depending on whether you see war as a male problem or a 
human one. 

With but one exception, all of my interviewees have been male, 
and when speaking of the soldier the words of war turn themselves 
easily to terms of "he," "him," and "his"; but it could just as 
readily be "she," "her," and "hers." While the masculine reference 
is used throughout this study, it is used solely out of convenience, 
and there is no intention to exclude the feminine gender from 
any of the dubious honors of war. 

Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

If you are a virgin preparing for your wedding night, if you or 
your partner are having sexual difficulties, or if you are just curious 
. . . then there are hundreds of scholarly books available to you 
on the topic of sexuality. But if you are a young "virgin" soldier 
or law-enforcement officer anticipating your baptism of fire, if 
you are a veteran (or the spouse of a veteran) who is troubled by 
killing experiences, or if you are just curious . . . then, on this 
topic, there has been absolutely nothing available in the way of 
scholarly study or writing. 

Until now. 

Over a hundred yean ago Ardant du Picq wrote his Battle Studies, 
in which he integrated data from both ancient history and surveys 
of French officers to establish a foundation for what he saw as a 
major nonparticipatory trend in warfare. From his experiences as 
the official historian of the European theater in World War II, 
Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall wrote Men Against Fire, in 
which he made some crucial observations on the firing rates of 
men in war. In 1976 John Keegan wrote his definitive Face of 
Battle, focusing again exclusively on war. With Acts of War, Richard 
Holmes wrote a key book exploring the nature of war. But the 
link between killing and war is like the link between sex and 
relationships. Indeed, this last analogy applies across the board. All 
previous authors have written books on relationships (that is, war), 
while this is a book on the act itself: on killing. 

These previous authors have examined the general mechanics 
and nature of war, but even with all this scholarship, no one has 
looked into the specific nature of the act of killing: the intimacy 

xiv Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

and psychological impact of the act, the stages of the act, the social 
and psychological implications and repercussions of the act, and 
the resultant disorders (including impotence and obsession). On 
Killing is a humble attempt to rectify this. And in doing so, it 
draws a novel and reassuring conclusion about the nature of man: 
despite an unbroken tradition of violence and war, man is not by 
nature a killer. 

The Existence of the "Safety Catch" 

One of my early concerns in writing On Killing was that World 
War II veterans might take offense at a book demonstrating that 
the vast majority of combat veterans of their era would not kill. 
Happily, my concerns were unfounded. Not one individual from 
among the thousands who have read On Killing has disputed 
this finding. 

Indeed, the reaction from World War II veterans has been one 
of consistent confirmation. For example, R. C. Anderson, a World 
War II Canadian artillery forward observer, wrote to say the fol- 

I can confirm many infantrymen never fired their weapons. I used 
to kid them that we fired a hell of a lot more 25-pounder [artillery] 
shells than they did rifle bullets. 

In one position . . . we came under fire from an olive grove to 
our flank. 

Everyone dived for cover. I was not occupied, at that moment, 
on my radio, so, seeing a Bren [light machine gun], I grabbed it 
and fired off a couple of magazines. The Bren gun's owner crawled 
over to me, swearing, "Its OK for you, you don't have to clean 
the son of a bitch." He was really mad. 

Colonel (retired) Albert J. Brown, in Reading, Pennsylvania, ex- 
emplifies the kind of response I have consistently received while 
speaking to veterans' groups. As an infantry platoon leader and 
company commander in World War II, he observed that "Squad 
leaders and platoon sergeants had to move up and down the firing 
hne kicking men to get them to fire. We felt like we were doing 
good to get two or three men out of a squad to fire." 

Introduction to the Paperback Edition 


There has been a recent controversy concerning S. L. A. Mar- 
shall's World War II firing rates. His methodology appears not to 
have met modern scholarly standards, but when faced with schol- 
arly concern about a researcher's methodology, a scientific ap- 
proach involves replicating the research. In Marshall's case, every 
available parallel scholarly study replicates his basic findings. Ardant 
du Picq's surveys and observations of the ancients, Holmes's and 
Keegan's numerous accounts of ineffectual firing, Holmes's assess- 
ment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, Griffith's data 
on the extraordinarily low killing rates among Napoleonic and 
American Civil War regiments, the British Army's laser reen- 
actments of historical batdes, the FBI's studies of nonfiling rates 
among law-enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and 
countless other individual and anecdotal observations all confirm 
Marshall's conclusion that the vast majority of combatants through- 
out history, at the moment of truth when they could and should kill 
the enemy, have found themselves to be "conscientious objectors." 

Taking Off the Safety Catch 

Slightly more controversial than claims of low firing rates in World 
War II have been observations about high firing rates in Vietnam 
resulting from training or "conditioning" techniques designed to 
enable killing in the modern soldier. From among thousands of 
readers and listeners, there were two senior officers with experience 
in Vietnam who questioned R. W. Glenn's finding of a 95 percent 
firing rate among American soldiers in Vietnam. In both cases 
their doubt was due to the fact that they had found a lack of 
ammunition expenditure among some soldiers in the rear of their 
formations. In each instance they were satisfied when it was pointed 
out that both Marshall's and Glenn's data revolved around two 
questions: "Did you see the enemy?" and "Did you fire?" In 
the jungles of Vietnam there were many circumstances in which 
combatants were completely isolated from comrades who were 
only a short distance away; but among those who did see the 
enemy, there appears to have been extraordinarily consistent high 
firing rates. 

xvi Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

High firing rates resulting from modern training/conditioning 
techniques can also be seen in Holmes's observation of British 
firing rates in the Falklands and in FBI data on law-enforcement 
firing rates since the introduction of modern training techniques 
in the late 1960s. And initial reports from researchers using formal 
and informal surveys to replicate Marshall's and Glenn's findings 
all indicate universal concurrence. 

A Worldwide Virus of Violence 

The observation that violence in the media is causing violence in 
our streets is nothing new. The American Psychiatric Association 
and the American Medical Association have both made unequivo- 
cable statements about the fink between media violence and vio- 
lence in our society. The APA, in its 1992 report Big World, Small 
Screen, concluded that the "scientific debate is over." 

There are people who claim that cigarettes don't cause cancer, 
and we know where their money is coming from. There are also 
people who claim that media violence does not cause violence in 
society, and we know which side of their bread is buttered. Such 
individuals can always get funding for their research and are guaran- 
teed coverage by the media that they protect. But these individuals 
have staked out the same moral and scientific ground as scientists 
in the service of cigarette manufacturers. 

On Killing's contribution to this debate is its explanation as to 
how and why violence in the media and in interactive video games 
is causing violence in our streets, and the way this process repli- 
cates the conditioning used to enable killing in soldiers and law- 
enforcement officers . . . but without the safeguards. 

An understanding of this "virus of violence" must begin with 
an assessment of the magnitude of the problem: ever-increasing 
incidence of violent crime, in spite of the way that medical technol- 
ogy is holding down the murder rate, and in spite of the role played 
by an ever-growing number of incarcerated violent criminals and 
an aging population in holding down the violence. 

It is not just an American problem, it is an international phenom- 
enon. In Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, and all 
across Europe, assault rates are skyrocketing. In countries like India, 

Introduction to the Paperback Edition 


International "Serious Assault" Rates 











International Murder Rates 





Australia , 

New Zealand 




© 1996 Dave Grossman 

As reported by each nation to Interpol offices, and published in Interpol's 
biannual International Crime Statistics. 

Note that what a nation elects to report under the headings of "murder" and "assault" can 
vary from nation to nation. For example, Scodand's totals include acts that the United 
States might classify as "manslaughter," thereby inflating its numbers. Therefore, compar- 
isons between nations are of limited value. What is important is the increase in violent 
crime within each nation, and the fact that this is occurring in all the indicated countries. 

xviii Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

where there is no significant infrastructure of medical technology 
to hold it down, the escalating murder rate best reflects the problem. 
Around the world the result is the same: an epidemic of violence. 

How It Works: Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency 

When people become angry, or frightened, they stop thinking 
with their forebrain (the mind of a human being) and start thinking 
with their midbrain (which is indistinguishable from the mind of 
an animal). They are literally "scared out of their wits." The only 
thing that has any hope of influencing the midbrain is also the 
only thing that influences a dog: classical and operant conditioning. 

That is what is used when training firemen and airline pilots to 
react to emergency situations: precise replication of the stimulus 
that they will face (in a flame house or a flight simulator) and then 
extensive shaping of the desired response to that stimulus. Stimulus- 
response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. In the crisis, when 
these individuals are scared out of their wits, they react properly 
and they save lives. 

This is done with anyone who will face an emergency situation, 
from children doing a fire drill in school to pilots in a simulator. 
We do it because, when people are frightened, it works. We do 
not tell schoolchildren what they should do in case of a fire, we 
condition them; and when they are frightened, they do the right 
thing. Through the media we are also conditioning children to 
kill; and when they are frightened or angry, the conditioning 
kicks in. 

It is as though there were two filters that we have to go through 
to kill. The first filter is the forebrain. A hundred things can 
convince your forebrain to put a gun in your hand and go to a 
certain point: poverty, drugs, gangs, leaders, politics, and the social 
learning of violence in the media — which is magnified when you 
are from a broken home and are searching for a role model. But 
traditionally all these things have slammed into the resistance that 
a frightened, angry human being confronts in the midbrain. And 
except with sociopaths (who, by definition, do not have this resis- 
tance), the vast, vast majority of circumstances are not sufficient 
to overcome this midbrain safety net. But if you are conditioned 

Introduction to the Paperback Edition xix 

to overcome these midbrain inhibitions, then you are a walking 
time bomb, a pseudosociopath, just waiting for the random factors 
of social interaction and forebrain rationalization to put you at the 
wrong place at the wrong time. 

Another way to look at this is to make an analogy with AIDS. 
AIDS does not kill people; it simply destroys the immune system 
and makes the victim vulnerable to death by other factors. The 
"violence immune system" exists in the midbrain, and condition- 
ing in the media creates an "acquired deficiency" in this immune 
system. With this weakened immune system, the victim becomes 
more vulnerable to violence-enabling factors, such as poverty, 
discrimination, drug addiction (which can provide powerful mo- 
tives for crime in order to fulfill real or perceived needs), or guns 
and gangs (which can provide the means and "support structure" 
to commit violent acts). 

Canada is an example of a nation that we have always considered 
to be relatively crime-free and stable. Stringent gun laws, compara- 
tively intact family structure, beloved and paternalistic government. 
But (surprise!) Canada has the exact same problem that we do. 
According to the Canadian Center for Justice, since 1964 the 
number of murders has doubled per capita, and "attempted mur- 
ders" increased from 6 per million in 1964 to 40 per million in 
1992. And assaults went up from 209 per 100,000 in 1964 to 940 
per 100,000 in 1992. This is almost exacdy the same ratio as the 
increase in violent crime in the United States. Vast numbers of 
Canadians have caught the virus of violence, the "acquired vio- 
lence immune deficiency," and as they ingest America's media 
violence, they are paying the inevitable price. 

This process is occurring around the world in nations that are 
exposed to media violence. The one exception is Japan. 

If you have a destroyed immune system, your only hope is to 
five in a "bubble" that isolates you from potential contagions. 
Japan is an example of a nation living in a "violence bubble." In 
Japan we see a powerful family and social structure; a homogeneous 
society with an intact, stable, and relatively homogeneous criminal 
structure (which has a surprisingly "positive" group and leadership 
influence, at least as far as sanctioning freelancers); and an island 

xx Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

nation with draconian control of not just guns but many other 
aspects of life. 

Thus, the Japanese have very few cultural, social, "forebrain" 
violence-enabling factors working against them, so we do not see 
nearly as much violence in their society. But they (like any nation 
that has a significant number of citizens with "acquired violence 
immune deficiency") are like weapons, sitting loaded with the 
safety off, just waiting for someone (another Tojo?) to pull the 

The bottom line is that Japan can "accept" a higher degree of 
midbrain violence-enabling in the media because that variable is 
being held down by all the other factors. For a while. 

But this restraint can defy gravity for only so long. Certainly 
their recent terrorist nerve-gas attacks have been sufficient to cause 
some soul-searching as Japan examines the degree to which media 
violence is causing its citizens to accept violence as a viable alter- 

Most of the world has not been able to protect its citizens. 
Governments around the globe, try as they might, have not been 
able to keep their immune-deficient citizens in a bubble. And they 
will never truly be able to control violent crime unless they stop 
infecting their children. 

"Just Turn It Off," or "Let Them Eat Cake" 

One common response to any concern about media violence is, 
"We have adequate controls. They are called the 'off switch. If 
you don't like it, just turn it off." 

Unfortunately, this is a tragically inadequate response to the 
problem. In today's society the family structure is breaking down 
and even in intact families there is enormous economic and social 
pressure for mothers to work. Single mothers, broken homes, 
latchkey kids, and parental neglect are increasingly the norm. 
Through herculean effort, parents might be able to protect their 
own kids in today's world, but that doesn't do much good if the 
kid next door is a killer. 

The worst thing about the "off switch" solution is that it is so 
blatantly, profoundly racist in its effect, if not its intent, because 

Introduction to the Paperback Edition xxi 

the black community in America is the "culture" or "nation" that 
has borne the brunt of the electronic media's violence-enabling. 
In this case, poverty, drugs, gangs, discrimination, and the availabil- 
ity of firearms all predispose more blacks than whites toward vio- 
lence. These factors defeat the first filter; then the absence of the 
second, midbrain filter becomes noticeable. 

Bronson James, a black Texas-based radio commentator whose 
show I was on, observed that this is identical to the genocidal 
process in which for centuries the white man used alcohol in a 
systematic policy to destroy the culture of the American Indian. 
For a variety of cultural and genetic reasons, the Indians were 
predisposed toward alcoholism, and we dumped it into them as a 
crucial part of the process that ultimately destroyed their civili- 

The pumping of media violence into the ghettos today is equally 
genocidal. Media violence-enabling in the ghetto is the moral 
equivalent of shouting, "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. As a result, 
murder is the number-one cause of death among black male teens, 
and 25 percent of all black males in their twenties are in jail, on 
probation, or on parole. 

If this isn't genocide, then it is close. 

What makes the "off switch" solution so racist is that, if these 
murders and incarceration rates were happening to the sons of 
white upper- and middle-class America, you can bet that we would 
have seen some drastic action by now. Viewed in this light, I think 
that most individuals would agree that the "just turn it off' solution 
probably rates right up there with "let them eat cake" and "I was 
just following orders" as all-time offensive statements. 

In developmental psychology there is a general understanding 
that an individual must master the twin areas of sexuality and 
aggression (Freud's Eros and Thanatos) in order to have truly 
achieved adulthood. In the same way, the maturation of the human 
race necessitates our collective mastery of these two areas. In recent 
years we have made significant progress in the field of sexology, 
and this book is dedicated to the creation and exploration of the 
equivalent field of "killology." 

xxii Introduction to the Paperback Edition 

After nuclear holocaust, the next major threat to our existence 
is the violent decay of our civilization due to violence-enabling 
in the electronic media. This book appears to be well on its way 
to making a difference in the desperate worldwide battle against 
the virus of violence. 

May it be so, and may you, the reader, find what you seek in 
these pages. 


Killing and Science: On Dangerous Ground 

This is the time of year when people would slaughter, back when 
people did that — Rollie and Eunice Hochstetter, I think, were 
the last in Lake Wobegon. They kept pigs, and they'd slaughter 
them in the fall when the weather got cold and the meat would 
keep. I went out to see them slaughter hogs once when I was 
a kid, along with my cousin and my uncle, who was going to 
help Rollie. 

Today, if you are going to slaughter an animal for meat, you 
send it in to the locker plant and pay to have the guys there do 
it. When you slaughter pigs, it takes away your appetite for pork 
for a while. Because the pigs let you know that they don't care 
for it. They don't care to be grabbed and dragged over to where 
the other pigs went and didn't come back. 

It was quite a thing for a kid to see. To see living flesh, and the 
living insides of another creature. I expected to be disgusted by it, 
but I wasn't — I was fascinated. I got as close as I could. 

And I remember that my cousin and I sort of got carried away 
in the excitement of it all and we went down to the pigpen and 
we started throwing little stones at pigs to watch them jump and 
squeal and run. And all of a sudden, I felt a big hand on my 
shoulder, and I was spun around, and my uncle's face was three 
inches away from mine. He said "If I ever see you do that again 
I'll beat you 'til you can't stand up, you hear?" And we heard. 

xxiv Introduction 

I knew at the time that his anger had to do with the slaughter, 
that it was a ritual and it was done as a Ritual. It was done 
swiftly, and there was no foolishness. No joking around, very little 
conversation. People went about their jobs — men and women — 
knowing exactly what to do. And always with respect for the 
animals that would become our food. And our throwing stones at 
pigs violated this ceremony, and this ritual, which they went 

Rollie was the last one to slaughter his own hogs. One year he 
had an accident; the knife slipped, and an animal that was only 
wounded got loose and ran across the yard before it fell. He never 
kept pigs after that. He didn't feel he was worthy of it. 

It's all gone. Children growing up in Lake Wobegon will never 
have a chance to see it. 

It was a powerful experience, life and death hung in the balance. 

A life in which people made do, made their own, lived off the 
land, lived between the ground and God. It's lost, not only to this 
world: but also to memory. 

— Garrison Keillor 
"Hog Slaughter" 

Why should we study killing? One might just as readily ask, Why 
study sex? The two questions have much in common. Richard 
Heckler points out that "it is in the mythological marriage of Ares 
and Aphrodite that Harmonia is born." Peace will not come until 
we have mastered both sex and war, and to master war we must 
study it with at least the diligence of Kinsey or Masters and Johnson. 
Every society has a blind spot, an area into which it has great 
difficulty looking. Today that blind spot is killing. A century ago 
it was sex. 

For millennia man sheltered himself and his family in caves, or 
huts, or one-room hovels. The whole extended family — grand- 
parents, parents, and children — all huddled together around the 
warmth of a single fire, within the protection of a single wall. And 
for thousands of years sex between a husband and wife could 
generally only take place at night, in the darkness, in this crowded 
central room. 

Introduction xxv 

I once interviewed a woman who grew up in an American 
Gypsy family, sleeping in a big communal tent with aunts, uncles, 
grandparents, parents, cousins, brothers, and sisters all around her. 
As a young child, sex was to her something funny, noisy, and 
slightly bothersome that grown-ups did in the night. 

In this environment there were no private bedrooms. Until very 
recently in human history, for the average human being, there 
was no such luxury as a bedroom, or even a bed. Although by 
today's sexual standards this situation may seem awkward, it was 
not without its advantages. One advantage was that sexual abuse 
of children could not happen without at least the knowledge and 
tacit consent of the entire family. Another, less obvious benefit of 
this age-old living arrangement was that throughout the life cycle, 
from birth to death, sex was always before you, and no one could 
deny that it was a vital, essential, and a not-too-mysterious aspect 
of daily human existence. 

And then, by the period that we know as the Victorian era, 
everything had changed. Suddenly the average middle-class family 
lived in a multiroom dwelling. Children grew up having never 
witnessed the primal act. And suddenly sex became hidden, private, 
mysterious, frightening, and dirty. The era of sexual repression in 
Western civilization had begun. 

In this repressed society, women were covered from neck to 
ankle, and even the furniture legs were covered with skirts, since 
the sight of these legs disturbed the delicate sensitivities of that 
era. Yet at the same time that this society repressed sex, it appears to 
have become obsessed by it. Pornography as we know it blossomed. 
Child prostitution flourished. And a wave of sexual child abuse 
began to ripple down through the generations. 1 

Sex is a natural and essential part of life. A society that has no 
sex has no society in one generation. Today our society has begun 
the slow, painful process of escaping from this pathological dichot- 
omy of simultaneous sexual repression and obsession. But we may 
have begun our escape from one denial only to fall into a new 
and possibly even more dangerous one. 

A new repression, revolving around killing and death, precisely 
parallels the pattern established by the previous sexual repression. 

xxvi Introduction 

Throughout history man has been surrounded by close and 
personal death and killing. When family members died of disease, 
lingering injury, or old age they died in the home. When they 
died anywhere close to home, their corpses were brought to the 
house — or cave, or hut, or hovel — and prepared for burial by 
the family. 

Places in the Heart is a movie in which Sally Field portrays a 
woman on a small cotton farm early in this century. Her husband 
has been shot and killed and is brought to the house. And, repeating 
a Ritual that has been enacted for countless centuries by countless 
millions of wives, she lovingly washes his naked corpse, preparing 
it for burial as tears streak down her face. 

In that world each family did its own killing and cleaning of 
domestic animals. Death was a part of life. Killing was undeniably 
essential to living. Cruelty was seldom, if ever, a part of this killing. 
Mankind understood its place in life, and respected the place of 
the creatures whose deaths were required to perpetuate existence. 
The American Indian asked forgiveness of the spirit of the deer 
he killed, and the American farmer respected the dignity of the 
hogs he slaughtered. 

As Garrison Keillor records in "Hog Slaughter," the slaughter 
of animals has been a vital Ritual of daily and seasonal activity for 
most people until this last half century of human existence. Despite 
the rise of the city, by the opening of the twentieth century the 
majority of the population, even in the most advanced industrial 
societies, remained rural. The housewife who wanted a chicken 
dinner went out and wrung the chicken's neck herself, or had her 
children do it. The children watched the daily and seasonal killings, 
and to them killing was a serious, messy, and slightly boring thing 
that everyone did as a part of life. 

In this environment there was no refrigeration, and few slaugh- 
terhouses, mortuaries, or hospitals. And in this age-old living ar- 
rangement, throughout the life cycle, from birth to death, death 
and killing were always before you — either as a participant or a 
bored spectator — and no one could deny that it was a vital, 
essential, and common aspect of daily human existence. 

Introduction xxvii 

And then, in just the last few generations, everything began to 
change. Slaughterhouses and refrigeration insulated us from the 
necessity of killing our own food animals. Modern medicine began 
to cure diseases, and it became increasingly rare for us to die in 
the youth and prime of our lives, and nursing homes, hospitals, 
and mortuaries insulated us from the death of the elderly. Children 
began to grow up having never truly understood where their food 
came from, and suddenly Western civilization seemed to have 
decided that killing, killing anything at all, was increasingly hidden, 
private, mysterious, frightening, and dirty. 

The impact of this ranges from the trivial to the bizarre. Just as 
the Victorians put skirts around their furniture to hide the legs, 
now mousetraps come equipped with covers to hide the killer's 
handiwork. And laboratories conducting medical research with 
animals are broken into, and lifesaving research is destroyed by 
animal-rights activists. These activists, while partaking of the medi- 
cal fruits of their society — fruits based upon centuries of animal 
research — attack researchers. Chris DeRose, head of the Los 
Angeles-based activist group Last Chance for Animals, says: "If the 
death of one rat cured all diseases it wouldn't make any difference to 
me. In the scheme of life we're equal." 

Any killing offends this new sensibility. People wearing fur or 
leather coats are verbally and physically attacked. In this new order 
people are condemned as racists (or "speciests") and murderers 
when they eat meat. Animal-rights leader Ingrid Newkirk says, 
"A rat is a pig is a boy," and compares the killing of chickens to 
the Nazi Holocaust. "Six million people died in concentration 
camps," she told the Washington Post, "but six billion broiler chick- 
ens will die this year in slaughterhouses." 

Yet at the same time that our society represses killing, a new 
obsession with the depiction of violent and brutal death and dis- 
memberment of humans has flourished. The public appetite for 
violence in movies, particularly in splatter movies such as Friday 
the 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the cult 
status of "heroes" like Jason and Freddy; the popularity of bands 
with names like Megadeth and Guns N' Roses; and skyrocketing 

xxviii Introduction 

murder and violent crime rates — all these are symptoms of a 
bizarre, pathological dichotomy of simultaneous repression and 
obsession with violence. 

Sex and death are natural and essential parts of life. Just as a 
society without sex would disappear in a generation, so too would 
a society without killing. Every major city in our nation must 
exterminate millions of rats and mice each year or become uninhab- 
itable. And granaries and grain elevators must exterminate millions 
of rats and mice each year. If they fail to do this, instead of being 
the world's breadbasket the United States would be unable to feed 
itself, and millions of people around the world would face star- 

Certain genteel sensitivities of the Victorian era are not without 
value and benefit to our society, and few would argue for a return 
to communal sleeping arrangements. In the same way, those who 
hold and espouse modern sensibilities about killing are generally 
gentle and sincere human beings who in many ways represent the 
most idealistic characteristics of our species, and their concerns 
have great potential value once we bring them into perspective. 
As technology enables us to butcher and exterminate whole species 
(including our own), it is vital that we learn restraint and self- 
discipline. But we must also remember that death has its place in 
the natural order of life. 

It seems that when a society does not have natural processes 
(such as sex, death, and killing) before it, that society will respond 
by denying and warping that aspect of nature. As our technology 
insulates us from a specific aspect of reality, our societal response 
seems to be to slip deep into bizarre dreams about that which we 
flee. Dreams spun from the fantasy stuff of denial. Dreams that 
can become dangerous societal nightmares as we sink deeper into 
their tempting web of fantasy. 

Today, even as we waken from the nightmare of sexual repres- 
sion, our society is beginning to sink into a new denial dream, 
that of violence and horror. This book is an attempt to bring the 
objective light of scientific scrutiny into the process of killing. 
A. M. Rosenthal tells us: 

Introduction xxix 

The health of humankind is not measured just by its coughs and 
wheezes but by the fevers of its soul. Or perhaps more important 
yet, by the quickness and care we bring against them. 

If our history suggests unreason's durability, our experience 
teaches that to neglect it is to indulge it and that to indulge it is 
to prepare hate's triumph. 

"To neglect it is to indulge it." This is, therefore, a study of aggres- 
sion, a study of violence, and a study of killing. Most specifically, it 
is an attempt to conduct a scientific study of the act of killing within 
the Western way of war and of the psychological and sociological 
processes and prices exacted when men kill each other in combat. 

Sheldon Bidwell held that such a study would by its very nature 
lay on "dangerous ground because the union between soldier and 
scientist has not yet passed beyond flirtation." I would seek to go 
in harm's way and effect not just a serious union between soldier 
and scientist, but a tentative menage a trois between soldier, scientist, 
and historian. 

I have combined these skills to conduct a five-year program of 
research into the previously taboo topic of killing in combat. In 
this study it is my intention to delve into this taboo subject of 
killing and to provide insight into the following: 

• The existence of a powerful, innate human resistance toward 
killing one's own species and the psychological mechanisms that 
have been developed by armies over the centuries to overcome 
that resistance 

• The role of atrocity in war and the mechanisms by which armies 
are both empowered and entrapped by atrocity 

• What it feels like to kill, a set of standard response stages to killing 
in combat, and the psychological price of killing 

• The techniques that have been developed and applied with tre- 
mendous success in modern combat training in order to condition 
soldiers to overcome their resistance to killing 

• How the American soldier in Vietnam was first psychologically 
enabled to kill to a far greater degree than any other soldier in 
history, then denied the psychologically essential purification 

xxx Introduction 

ritual that exists in every warrior society, and finally condemned 
and accused by his own society to a degree that is unprecedented 
in Western history. And the terrible, tragic price that America's 
three million Vietnam veterans, their families, and our society 
are paying for what we did to our soldiers in Vietnam 
• Finally, and perhaps most important, I believe that this study will 
provide insight into the way that rifts in our society combine 
with violence in the media and in interactive video games to 
indiscriminately condition our nation's children to kill. In a fash- 
ion very similar to the way the army conditions our soldiers. But 
without the safeguards. And we will see the terrible, tragic price 
that our nation is paying for what we are doing to our children. 

A Personal Note 

I am a soldier of twenty years' service. I have been a sergeant in 
the 82d Airborne Division, a platoon leader in the 9th (High Tech 
Test Bed) Division, and I have been a general staff officer and a 
company commander in the 7th (Light) Infantry Division. I am a 
parachute infantryman and an army Ranger. I have been deployed 
to the Arctic tundras, the Central American jungles, NATO head- 
quarters, the Warsaw Pact, and coundess mountains and deserts. 
I am a graduate of military schools ranging from the XVIII Airborne 
Corps NCO Academy to the British Army Staff College. I gradua- 
ted summa cum laude from my undergraduate training as a histo- 
rian, and Kappa Delta Pi from my graduate training as a psycholo- 
gist. I have had the privilege of being a cospeaker with General 
Westmoreland before the national leadership of the Vietnam Veter- 
ans Coalition of America, and I have served as the keynote speaker 
for the Sixth Annual Convention of the Vietnam Veterans of 
America. I have served in academic positions ranging from a junior- 
high-school counselor to a West Point psychology professor. And 
I am currently serving as the Professor of Military Science and Chair 
of the Department of Military Science at Arkansas State University. 
But for all this experience, I, like Richard Holmes, John Keegan, 
Paddy Griffith, and many others who have gone before me in 
this field, have not killed in combat. Perhaps I could not be as 
dispassionate and objective as I need to be if I had to carry a load 

Introduction xxxi 

of emotional pain myself. But the men whose words fill this study 
have killed. 

Very often what they shared with me was something that they 
had never shared with anyone before. As a counselor I have been 
taught, and I hold it to be a fundamental truth of human nature, 
that when someone withholds something traumatic it can cause 
great damage. When you share something with someone it helps 
to place it in perspective, but when you hold it inside, as one of 
my psychology students once put it, "it eats you alive from the 
inside out." Furthermore, there is great therapeutic value in the 
catharsis that comes with lancing these emotional boils. The essence 
of counseling is that pain shared is pain divided, and there was 
much pain shared during these periods. 

The ultimate objective of this book is to uncover the dynamics 
of killing, but my prime motivation has been to help pierce the 
taboo of killing that prevented these men, and many millions like 
them, from sharing their pain. And then to use the knowledge 
gained in order to understand first the mechanisms that enable war 
and then the cause of the current wave of violent crime that is 
destroying our nation. If I have succeeded, it is because of the 
help given to me by the men whose tales are told herein. 

Many copies of early drafts of this work have been circulating 
among the Vietnam veterans' community for several years now, 
and many veterans have carefully edited and commented on those 
drafts. Many of these vets read this book and shared it with their 
spouses. Then those wives shared it with other wives, and these 
wives shared it with their husbands. And so on. Many times the 
veterans and/or their wives contacted me and let me know how 
they were able to use this book to communicate and understand 
what had happened in combat. Out of their pain has come under- 
standing, and out of that understanding has come the power to 
heal fives and, perhaps, to heal a nation that is being consumed 
with violence. 

The men whose personal narratives appear in this study are 
noble and brave men who trusted others with their experiences 
in order to contribute to the body of human knowledge. Many 
killed in combat. But they killed to save their lives and the lives 

xxxii Introduction 

of their comrades, and my admiration and affection for them and 
their brothers are very real. John Masefield's poem "A Consecra- 
tion" serves as a better dedication than any I could write. The 
exception to this admiration is, of course, addressed in the section 
"Killing and Atrocities." 

If in my absence of euphemisms and my effort to clearly and 
clinically speak of "killers" and "victims," if in these things the 
reader senses moral judgment or disapproval of the individuals 
involved, let me flatly and categorically deny it. 

Generations of Americans have endured great physical and psy- 
chological trauma and horror in order to give us our freedoms. 
Men such as those quoted in this study followed Washington, 
stood shoulder to shoulder with Crockett and Travis at the Alamo, 
righted the great wrong of slavery, and stopped the murderous 
evil of Hider. They answered their nation's call and heeded not 
the cost. As a soldier for my entire adult life, I take pride in hav- 
ing maintained in some small way the standard of sacrifice and 
dedication represented by these men. And I would not harm them 
or besmirch their memory and honor. Douglas MacArthur said it 
well: "However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier 
who is called upon to offer and give his life for his country, is the 
noblest development of mankind." 

The soldiers whose narratives form the heart and soul of this 
work understood the essence of war. They are heroes as great as 
any found in the Iliad, yet the words that you will read here, their 
own words, destroy the myth of warriors and war as heroic. The 
soldier understands that there are times when all others have failed, 
and that then he must "pay the butcher's bill" and fight, suffer, 
and die to undo the errors of the politicians and to fulfill the "will 
of the people." 

"The soldier above all other people," said MacArthur, "prays 
for peace, for they must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and 
scars of war." There is wisdom in the words of these soldiers. 
There is wisdom in these tales of a "handful of ashes, a mouthful 
of mould. / Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain 
and the cold." There is wisdom here, and we would do well 

Introduction xxxiii 

to listen. 

Just as I do not wish to condemn those who have killed in 
lawful combat, nor do I wish to judge the many soldiers who 
chose not to kill. There are many such soldiers; indeed I will 
provide evidence that in many historical circumstances these non- 
firers represented the majority of those on the firing line. As a 
soldier who may have stood beside them I cannot help but be 
dismayed at their failure to support their cause, their nation, and 
their fellows; but as a human being who has understood some of 
the burden that they have borne, and the sacrifice that they have 
made, I cannot help but be proud of them and the noble characteris- 
tic that they represent in our species. 

The subject of killing makes most healthy people uneasy, and 
some of the specific subjects and areas to be addressed here will 
be repulsive and offensive. They are things that we would rather 
turn away from, but Carl von Clausewitz warned that "it is to no 
purpose, it is even against one's better interest, to turn away from 
the consideration of the affair because the horror of its elements 
excites repugnance." Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of the Nazi 
death camps, argues that the root of our failure to deal with violence 
lies in our refusal to face up to it. We deny our fascination with 
the "dark beauty of violence," and we condemn aggression and 
repress it rather than look at it squarely and try to understand and 
control it. 

And, finally, if in my focus on the pain of the killers I do not 
sufficiently address the suffering of their victims, let me apologize 
now. "The guy pulling the trigger," wrote Allen Cole and Chris 
Bunch, "never suffers as much as the person on the receiving 
end." It is the existence of the victim's pain and loss, echoing 
forever in the soul of the killer, that is at the heart of his pain. 

Leo Frankowski tells us that "cultures all develop blind spots, 
things that they don't even think about because they know the 
truth about them." The veterans quoted in this study have had 
their faces rubbed in this cultural blind spot. We are truly, as one 
veteran put it to me, "virgins studying sex," but they can teach 
us what they have learned at such a dear price. My objective is 

xxxiv Introduction 

to understand the psychological nature of killing in combat and 
to probe the emotional wounds and scars of those men who 
answered their nation's call and meted out death — or chose to 
pay the price for not doing so. 

Now more than ever we must overcome our revulsion and 
understand, as we have never understood before, why it is that 
men fight and kill. And equally important, why it is that they will 
not. Only on the basis of understanding this ultimate, destructive 
aspect of human behavior can we hope to influence it in such a 
way as to ensure the survival of our civilization. 2 


Killing and the Existence of Resistance: 
A World of Virgins Studying Sex 

It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy 
individual — the man who can endure the mental and physical 
stresses of combat — still has such an inner and usually unrealized 
resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his 
own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that 
responsibility. ... At the vital point he becomes a conscientious ob- 

— S. L. A. Marshall 
Men Against Fire 

Then I cautiously raised the upper half of my body into the tunnel 
until I was lying flat on my stomach. When I felt comfortable, I 
placed my Smith Wesson .38-caliber snub-nose (sent to me by my 
father for tunnel work) beside the flashlight and switched on the 
light, illuminating the tunnel. 

There, not more than 15 feet away, sat a Viet Cong eating a 
handful of rice from a pouch on his lap. We looked at each other 
for what seemed to be an eternity, but in fact was probably only 
a few seconds. 

2 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

Maybe it was the surprise of actually finding someone else there, 
or maybe it was just the absolute innocence of the situation, but 
neither one of us reacted. 

After a moment, he put his pouch of rice on the floor of the 
tunnel beside him, turned his back to me and slowly started crawling 
away. I, in turn, switched off my flashlight, before slipping back 
into the lower tunnel and making my way back to the entrance. 
About 20 minutes later, we received word that another squad had 
killed a VC emerging from a tunnel 500 meters away. 

I never doubted who that VC was. To this day, I firmly believe 
that grunt and I could have ended the war sooner over a beer in 
Saigon than Henry Kissinger ever could by attending the peace talks. 

— Michael Kathman 
"Triangle Tunnel Rat" 

Our first step in the study of killing is to understand the existence, 
extent, and nature of the average human being's resistance to 
killing his fellow human. In this section we will attempt to do 

When I started interviewing combat veterans as a part of this 
study, I discussed some of the psychological theories concerning 
the trauma of combat with one crusty old sergeant. He laughed 
scornfully and said, "Those bastards don't know anything about 
it. They're like a world of virgins studying sex, and they got 
nothing to go on but porno movies. And it is just like sex, 'cause 
the people who really do it just don't talk about it." 

In a way, the study of killing in combat is very much like the 
study of sex. Killing is a private, intimate occurrence of tremendous 
intensity, in which the destructive act becomes psychologically 
very much like the procreative act. For those who have never 
experienced it, the depiction of battle that Hollywood has given 
us, and the cultural mythology that Hollywood is based upon, 
appear to be about as useful in understanding killing as porno- 
graphic movies would be in trying to understand the intimacy of 
a sexual relationship. A virgin observer might get the mechanics 
of sex right by watching an X-rated movie, but he or she could 

Killing and the Existence of Resistance 3 

never hope to understand the intimacy and intensity of the procre- 
ative experience. 

As a society we are as fascinated by killing as we are by sex — 
possibly more so, since we are somewhat jaded by sex and have 
a fairly broad base of individual experience in this area. Many 
children, upon seeing that I am a decorated soldier, immediately 
ask "Have you ever killed anyone?" or "How many people have 
you killed?" 

Where does this curiosity come from? Robert Heinlein once 
wrote that fulfillment in life involved "loving a good woman and 
killing a bad man." If there is such a strong interest in killing in 
our society, and if it equates in many minds to an act of manhood 
equivalent to sex, then why hasn't the destructive act been as 
specifically and systematically studied as the procreative act? 

Over the centuries there have been a few pioneers who have 
laid the foundation for such a study, and in this section we will 
attempt to look at them all. Probably the best starting point is with 
S. L. A. Marshall, the greatest and most influential of these pioneers. 

Prior to World War II it had always been assumed that the 
average soldier would kill in combat simply because his country 
and his leaden have told him to do so and because it is essential 
to defend his own life and the lives of his friends. When the point 
came that he didn't kill, it was assumed that he would panic and run. 

During World War II U.S. Army Brigadier General S. L. A. 
Marshall asked these average soldiers what it was that they did 
in battle. His singularly unexpected discovery was that, of every 
hundred men along the line of fire during the period of an encoun- 
ter, an average of only 15 to 20 "would take any part with their 
weapons." This was consistently true "whether the action was 
spread over a day, or two days or three." 

Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during 
World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the 
European theater of operations. He had a team of historians work- 
ing for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass 
interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than four hundred 
infantry companies, in Europe and in the Pacific, immediately after 

Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. 
The results were consistently the same: only 15 to 20 percent of 
the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire 
at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide (in 
many cases they were willing to risk great danger to rescue com- 
rades, get ammunition, or run messages), but they simply would 
not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated 
waves of banzai charges. 1 

The question is why. Why did these men fail to fire? As I 
examined this question and studied the process of killing in combat 
from the standpoints of a historian, a psychologist, and a soldier, 
I began to realize that there was one major factor that was missing 
from the common understanding of killing in combat, a factor 
that answers this question and more. That missing factor is the 
simple and demonstrable fact that there is within most men an 
intense resistance to killing their fellow man. A resistance so strong 
that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die 
before they can overcome it. 

To some, this makes "obvious" sense. "Of course it is hard to 
kill someone," they would say. "I could never bring myself to do 
it." But they would be wrong. With the proper conditioning and 
the proper circumstances, it appears that almost anyone can and 
will kill. Others might respond, "Any man will kill in combat 
when he is faced with someone who is trying to kill him." And 
they would be even more wrong, for in this section we shall 
observe that throughout history the majority of men on the battle- 
field would not attempt to kill the enemy, even to save their own 
lives or the fives of their friends. 

Chapter One 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 

The notion that the only alternatives to conflict are fight or flight 
are embedded in our culture, and our educational institutions have 
done litde to challenge it. The traditional American military policy 
raises it to the level of a law of nature. 

— Richard Heckler 

In Search of the Warrior Spirit 

One of the roots of our misunderstanding of the psychology of 
the battlefield lies in the misapplication of the fight-or-flight model 
to the stresses of the battlefield. This model holds that in the face 
of danger a series of physiological and psychological processes 
prepare and support the endangered creature for either fighting or 
fleeing. The fight-or-flight dichotomy is the appropriate set of 
choices for any creature faced with danger other than that which 
comes from its own species. When we examine the responses of 
creatures confronted with aggression from their own species, the 
set of options expands to include posturing and submission. This 
application of animal kingdom intraspecies response patterns (that 
is, fight, flee, posture, and submit) to human warfare is, to the 
best of my knowledge, entirely new. 

The first decision point in an intraspecies conflict usually involves 
deciding between fleeing or posturing. A threatened baboon or 

6 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

rooster who elects to stand its ground does not respond to aggres- 
sion from one of his own kind by leaping instantly to the enemy's 
throat. Instead, both creatures instinctively go through a series of 
posturing actions that, while intimidating, are almost always harmless. 
These actions are designed to convince an opponent, through both 
sight and sound, that the posturer is a dangerous and frightening ad- 

When the posturer has failed to dissuade an intraspecies oppo- 
nent, the options then become fight, flight, or submission. When 
the fight option is utilized, it is almost never to the death. Konrad 
Lorenz pointed out that piranhas and rattlesnakes will bite anything 
and everything, but among themselves piranhas fight with raps of 
their tails, and rattlesnakes wrestle. Somewhere during the course 
of such highly constrained and nonlethal fights, one of these intra- 
species opponents will usually become daunted by the ferocity and 
prowess of its opponent, and its only options become submission 
or flight. Submission is a surprisingly common response, usually 
taking the form of fawning and exposing some vulnerable portion 
of the anatomy to the victor, in the instinctive knowledge that 
the opponent will not kill or further harm one of its own kind 
once it has surrendered. The posturing, mock battle, and submis- 
sion process is vital to the survival of the species. It prevents 
needless deaths and ensures that a young male will live through 
early confrontations when his opponents are bigger and better 
prepared. Having been outpostured by his opponent, he can then 
submit and five to mate, passing on his genes in later years. 

There is a clear distinction between actual violence and postur- 
ing. Oxford social psychologist Peter Marsh notes that this is true 
in New York street gangs, it is true in "so-called primitive tribes- 
men and warriors," and it is true in almost any culture in the 
world. All have the same "patterns of aggression" and all have 
"very orchestrated, highly ritualized" patterns of posturing, mock 
battle, and submission. These rituals restrain and focus the violence 
on relatively harmless posturing and display. What is created is a 
"perfect illusion of violence." Aggression, yes. Competitiveness, 
yes. But only a "very tiny, tiny level" of actual violence. 

"There is," concludes Gwynne Dyer, "the occasional psycho- 
path who really wants to slice people open," but most of the 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 

The Soldier's Options 



participants are really interested in "status, display, profit, and 
damage limitation." Like their peacetime contemporaries, the kids 
who have fought in close combat throughout history (and it is 
kids, or adolescent males, whom most societies traditionally send 
off to do their fighting), killing the enemy was the very least of 
their intentions. In war, as in gang war, posturing is the name of 
the game. 

In this account from Paddy Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil 
War, we can see the effective use of verbal posturing in the thick 
woods of the American Civil War's Wilderness campaign: 

The yellers could not be seen, and a company could make itself 
sound like a regiment if it shouted loud enough. Men spoke later 
of various units on both sides being "yelled" out of their positions. 

In such instances of units being yelled out of positions, we see 
posturing in its most successful form, resulting in the opponent's 
selection of the flight option without even attempting the fight 

Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

Adding the posture and submission options to the standard fight- 
or-flight model of aggression response helps to explain many of 
the actions on the battlefield. When a man is frightened, he literally 
stops thinking with his forebrain (that is, with the mind of a human 
being) and begins to think with the midbrain (that is, with the 
portion of his brain that is essentially indistinguishable from that 
of an animal), and in the mind of an animal it is the one who 
makes the loudest noise or puffs himself up the largest who will win. 

Posturing can be seen in the plumed helmets of the ancient 
Greeks and Romans, which allowed the bearer to appear taller 
and therefore fiercer to his foe, while the brilliantly shined armor 
made him seem broader and brighter. Such plumage saw its height 
in modern history during the Napoleonic era, when soldiers wore 
bright uniforms and high, uncomfortable shako hats, which served 
no purpose other than to make the wearer look and feel like a 
taller, more dangerous creature. 

In the same manner, the roars of two posturing beasts are exhib- 
ited by men in battle. For centuries the war cries of soldiers have 
made their opponents' blood run cold. Whether it be the batde 
cry of a Greek phalanx, the "hurrah!" of the Russian infantry, the 
wail of Scottish bagpipes, or the Rebel yell of our own Civil 
War, soldiers have always instinctively sought to daunt the enemy 
through nonviolent means prior to physical conflict, while encour- 
aging one another and impressing themselves with their own feroc- 
ity and simultaneously providing a very effective means of drown- 
ing the disagreeable yell of the enemy. 

A modern equivalent to the Civil War occurrence mentioned 
above can be seen in this Army Historical Series account of a 
French battalion's participation in the defense of Chipyong-Ni 
during the Korean War: 

The [North Korean] soldiers formed one hundred or two hundred 
yards in front of the small hill which the French occupied, then 
launched their attack, blowing whistles and bugles, and running 
with bayonets fixed. When this noise started, the French soldiers 
began cranking a hand siren they had, and one squad started running 
toward the Chinese, yelling and throwing grenades far to the front 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 9 

and to the side. When the two forces were within twenty yards 
of each other the Chinese suddenly turned and ran in the opposite 
direction. It was all over within a minute. 

Here again we see an incident in which posturing (involving sirens, 
grenade explosions, and charging bayonets) by a small force was 
sufficient to cause a numerically superior enemy force to hastily 
select the flight option. 

With the advent of gunpowder, the soldier has been provided 
with one of the finest possible means of posturing. "Time and 
again," says Paddy Griffith, 

we read of regiments [in the Civil War] blazing away uncontrolla- 
bly, once started, and continuing until all ammunition was gone 
or all enthusiasm spent. Firing was such a positive act, and gave 
the men such a physical release for their emotions, that instincts 
easily took over from training and from the exhortations of officers. 

Gunpowder's superior noise, its superior posturing ability, made it 
ascendant on the battlefield. The longbow would still have been 
used in the Napoleonic Wars if the raw mathematics of killing 
effectiveness was all that mattered, since both the longbow's firing 
rate and its accuracy were much greater than that of a smoothbore 
musket. But a frightened man, thinking with his midbrain and 
going "ploink, ploink, ploink" with a bow, doesn't stand a chance 
against an equally frightened man going "BANG! BANG!" with 
a musket. 

Firing a musket or rifle clearly fills the deep-seated need to 
posture, and it even meets the requirement of being relatively 
harmless when we consider the consistent historical occurrences 
of firing over the enemy's head, and the remarkable ineffectiveness 
of such fire. 

Ardant du Picq became one of the first to document the common 
tendency of soldiers to fire harmlessly into the air simply for the 
sake of firing. Du Picq made one of the first thorough investigations 
into the nature of combat with a questionnaire distributed to 
French officers in the 1860s. One officer's response to du Picq 

10 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

stated quite frankly that "a good many soldiers fired into the air 
at long distances," while another observed that "a certain number 
of our soldiers fired almost in the air, without aiming, seeming to 
want to stun themselves, to become drunk on rifle fire during this 
gripping crisis." 

Paddy Griffith joins du Picq in observing that soldiers in battle 
have a desperate urge to fire their weapons even when (perhaps 
especially when) they cannot possibly do the enemy any harm. 
Griffith notes: 

Even in the noted "slaughter pens" at Bloody Lane, Marye's 
Heights, Kennesaw, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor an attacking 
unit could not only come very close to the defending line, but it 
could also stay there for hours — and indeed for days — at a time. 
Civil War musketry did not therefore possess the power to kill 
large numbers of men, even in very dense formations, at long 
range. At short range it could and did kill large numbers, but not 
very quickly [emphasis added]. 

Griffith estimates that the average musket fire from a Napoleonic 
or Civil War regiment (usually numbering between two hundred 
and one thousand men) firing at an exposed enemy regiment at 
an average range of thirty yards, would usually result in hitting 
only one or two men per minute! Such firefights "dragged on until 
exhaustion set in or nightfall put an end to hostilities. Casualties 
mounted because the contest went on so long, not because the 
fire was particularly deadly." 

Thus we see that the fire of the Napoleonic- and Civil War-era 
soldier was incredibly ineffective. This does not represent a failure 
on the part of the weaponry. John Keegan and Richard Holmes 
in their book Soldiers tell us of a Prussian experiment in the late 
1700s in which an infantry battalion fired smoothbore muskets at 
a target one hundred feet long by six feet high, representing an 
enemy unit, which resulted in 25 percent hits at 225 yards, 40 
percent hits at 150 yards, and 60 percent hits at 75 yards. This 
represented the potential killing power of such a unit. The reality 
is demonstrated at the Battle of Belgrade in 1717, when "two 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 11 

Imperial battalions held their fire until their Turkish opponents 
were only thirty paces away, but hit only thirty-two Turks when 
they fired and were promptly overwhelmed." 

Sometimes the fire was completely harmless, as Benjamin 
Mclntyre observed in his firsthand account of a totally bloodless 
nighttime firefight at Vicksburg in 1863. "It seems strange 
wrote Mclntyre, "that a company of men can fire volley after 
volley at a like number of men at not over a distance of fifteen 
steps and not cause a single casualty. Yet such was the facts in this 
instance." The musketry of the black-powder era was not always 
so ineffective, but over and over again the average comes out to 
only one or two men hit per minute with musketry. 

(Cannon fire, like machine-gun fire in World War II, is an 
entirely different matter, sometimes accounting for more than 50 
percent of the casualties on the black-powder battlefield, and artil- 
lery fire has consistently accounted for the majority of combat 
casualties in this century. This is largely due to the group processes 
at work in a cannon, machine-gun, or other crew-served-weapons 
firing. This subject is addressed in detail later in this book in the 
section entitled "An Anatomy of Killing.") 

Muzzle-loading muskets could fire from one to five shots per 
minute, depending on the skill of the operator and the state of 
the weapon. With a potential hit rate of well over 50 percent at 
the average combat ranges of this era, the killing rate should have 
been hundreds per minute, instead of one or two. The weak fink 
between the killing potential and the killing capability of these 
units was the soldier. The simple fact is that when faced with a 
living, breathing opponent instead of a target, a significant majority 
of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over 
their enemy's heads. 

Richard Holmes, in his superb book Acts of War, examines the 
hit rates of soldiers in a variety of historical battles. At Rorkes 
Drift in 1897 a small group of British soldiers were surrounded 
and vastly outnumbered by the Zulu. Firing volley after volley 
into the massed enemy ranks at point-blank range, it seems as if 
no round could have possibly missed, and even a 50 percent hit 

12 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

rate would seem to be low. But Holmes estimates that in actuality 
approximately thirteen rounds were fired for each hit. 

In the same way, General Crook's men fired 25,000 rounds at 
Rosebud Creek on June 16, 1876, causing 99 casualties among 
the Indians, or 252 rounds per hit. And in the French defense 
from fortified positions during the Battle of Wissembourg, in 1870, 
the French, shooting at German soldiers advancing across open 
fields, fired 48,000 rounds to hit 404 Germans, for a hit ratio of 
1 hit per 119 rounds fired. (And some, or possibly even the major- 
ity, of the casualties had to have been from artillery fire, which 
makes the French killing rate even more remarkable.) 

Lieutenant George Roupell encountered this same phenomenon 
while commanding a British platoon in World War I. He stated 
that the only way he could stop his men from firing into the air 
was to draw his sword and walk down the trench, "beating the 
men on the backside and, as I got their attention, telling them to 
fire low." And the trend can be found in the firefights of Vietnam, 
when more than fifty thousand bullets were fired for every enemy 
soldier killed. 2 "One of the things that amazed me," stated Douglas 
Graham, a medic with the First Marine Division in Vietnam, who 
had to crawl out under enemy and friendly fire to aid wounded 
soldiers, "is how many bullets can be fired during a firefight without 
anyone getting hurt." 

The focus of primitive tribesmen on posturing at the expense 
of fighting in times of war is usually blatant and obvious. Richard 
Gabriel points out that primitive New Guinea tribes were excellent 
shots with the bow and arrows they used while hunting, but when 
they went to war with each other they took the feathers off of 
the backs of their arrows, and it was only with these inaccurate 
and useless arrows that they fought their wars. In the same way, the 
American Indians considered "counting coup," or simply touching 
their enemy, to be far more important than killing. 

This trend can be seen in the roots of the Western way of war. 
Sam Keen notes that Professor Arthur Nock at Harvard was fond 
of saying that wars between the Greek city-states "were only 
slightly more dangerous than American football." And Ardant du 
Picq points out that in all his years of conquest, Alexander the 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 13 

Great lost only seven hundred men to the sword. His enemy lost 
many, many more, but almost all of this occurred after the battle 
(which appears to have been an almost bloodless pushing match), 
when the enemy soldiers had turned their backs and begun to run. 
Carl von Clausewitz makes the same point when he notes that 
the vast majority of combat losses historically occurred in the pursuit 
after one side or the other had won the battle. (Why this occurs 
is a subject that will be looked at in detail in the section "Killing 
and Physical Distance.") 

As we shall see, modern training or conditioning techniques 
can partially overcome the inclination to posture. Indeed, the 
history of warfare can be seen as a history of increasingly more 
effective mechanisms for enabling and conditioning men to over- 
come their innate resistance to killing their fellow human beings. 
In many circumstances highly trained modern soldiers have fought 
poorly trained guerrilla forces, and the tendency of poorly prepared 
forces to instinctively engage in posturing mechanisms (such as 
firing high) has given a significant advantage to the more highly 
trained force. Jack Thompson, a Rhodesian veteran, observed 
this process in combat against untrained forces. In Rhodesia, says 
Thompson, their immediate action drill was to "shed our packs 
and assault into the fire . . . always. That was because the [guerrillas] 
were not able to deliver effective fire, and their bullets went high. 
We would quickly establish fire superiority, and rarely ever lost 
a man." 

This psychological and technological superiority in training and 
killing enabling continues to be a vital factor in modern warfare. 
It can be seen in the British invasion of the Falklands and the 1989 
United States invasion of Panama, where the tremendous success 
of the invaders and the remarkable disparity between the kill ratios 
can be at least partially explained by the degree and quality of 
training in the different forces. 

Missing the target does not necessarily involve firing obviously 
high, and two decades on army rifle ranges have taught me that 
a soldier must fire unusually high for it to be obvious to an observer. 
In other words, the intentional miss can be a very subtle form 
of disobedience. 

14 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

One of the best examples of an intentional miss was the experi- 
ence of my grandfather John, who had been assigned to a firing 
squad during World War I. A major source of pride from his days 
as a veteran was that he was able to not kill while a member of 
that firing squad. He knew that the commands would be "Ready, 
aim, fire," and he knew that if he aimed at the prisoner on the 
command of "aim," he would hit the target he was aiming at on 
the command of "fire." His response was to aim slightly away 
from the prisoner on the command of "aim," enabling him to 
miss when he pulled the trigger on the command of "fire." My 
grandfather bragged for the rest of his life about outsmarting the 
army in this manner. Of course, others in the firing squad did 
kill the prisoner, but his conscience was clear. In the same way, 
generations of soldiers appear to have either intentionally or in- 
stinctively outwitted the powers that be by simply exercising the 
soldier's right to miss. 

Another excellent example of soldiers exercising their right to 
miss is this mercenary-journalist's account of going with one of 
Eden Pastora's (a.k.a. Commandante Zero) Contra units on an 
ambush of a civilian river launch in Nicaragua: 

I'll never forget Surdo's words as he gave his imitation of a Pastora 
harangue prior to going into battle, telling the entire formation, "Si 
mata una mujer, mata una piricuaco; si mata un nino, mata unpiricuaco." 

Piricuaco is a derogatory term, meaning rabid dog, we used for 
the Sandinistas, so in effect Surdo was saying "If you kill a woman, 
you're killing a Sandinista, if you kill a child, you're killing a 
Sandinista." And off we went to kill women and children. 

Once again I was part of the 10 men who would actually perform 
the ambush. We cleared our fields of fire and settled back to await 
the arrival of women and children and whatever other civilian 
passengers there might be on this launch. 

Each man was alone with his thoughts. Not a word was spoken 
among us regarding the nature of our mission. Surdo paced back 
and forth nervously some yards behind us in the protection of 
the jungle. 

. . . The loud throb of the powerful diesels of the 70-foot launch 
preceded its arrival by a good two minutes. The signal to commence 

Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit 15 

firing was given as it appeared in front of us and I watched the 
RPG-7 [rocket] arc over the boat and into the jungle on the 
opposite bank. The M60 [machine gun] opened up, I rattled off 
a 20-round burst from my FAL. Brass was flying as thick as the 
jungle insects as our squad emptied their magazines. Every bullet 
sailed harmlessly over the civilian craft. 

When Surdo realized what was happening he came running out 
of the jungle cursing violently in Spanish and firing his AK [rifle] 
at the disappearing launch. Nicaraguan peasants are mean bastards, 
and tough soldiers. But they're not murderers. I laughed aloud in 
relief and pride as we packed up and prepared to move out. 

— Dr. John 
"American in ARDE" 

Note the nature of such a "conspiracy to miss." Without a word 
being spoken, every soldier who was obliged and trained to fire 
reverted — as millions of others must have over the centuries — to 
the simple artifice of soldierly incompetence. And like the firing- 
squad member mentioned earlier, these soldiers took a great and 
private pleasure in outmaneuvering those who would make them 
do that which they would not. 

Even more remarkable than instances of posturing, and equally 
indisputable, is the fact that a significant number of soldiers in 
combat elect not even to fire over the enemy's head, but instead 
do not fire at all. In this respect their actions very much resemble 
the actions of those members of the animal kingdom who "submit" 
passively to the aggression and determination of their opponent 
rather than fleeing, fighting, or posturing. 

We have previously observed General S. L. A. Marshall's findings 
concerning the 15 to 20 percent firing rates of U.S. soldiers in 
World War II. Both Marshall and Dyer note that the dispersion 
of the modern battlefield was probably a major factor in this low 
firing rate, and dispersion is indeed one factor in a complex equation 
of restraints and enabling mechanisms. Yet Marshall noted that 
even in situations where there were several riflemen together in 
a position facing an advancing enemy, only one was likely to fire 

16 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

while the others would tend to such "vital" tasks as running 
messages, providing ammo, tending wounded, and spotting targets. 
Marshall makes it clear that in most cases the firers were aware of 
the large body of nonfirers around them. The inaction of these 
passive individuals did not seem to have a demoralizing effect on 
actual firers. To the contrary, the presence of the nonfirers seemed 
to enable the firers to keep going. 3 

Dyer argues that all other forces on the World War II battlefield 
must have had somewhere near the same rate of nonfirers. If, says 
Dyer, "a higher proportion of Japanese or Germans had been 
willing to kill, then the volume of fire they actually managed to 
produce would have been three, four, or five times greater than 
a similar number of Americans — and it wasn't." 4 

There is ample supporting evidence to indicate that Marshall's 
observations are applicable not only to U.S. soldiers or even to 
the soldiers on all sides in World War II. Indeed, there are compel- 
ling data that indicate that this singular lack of enthusiasm for 
killing one's fellow man has existed throughout military history. 

A 1986 study by the British Defense Operational Analysis Estab- 
lishment's field studies division used historical studies of more than 
one hundred nineteenth- and twentieth-century battles and test 
trials using pulsed laser weapons to determine the killing effective- 
ness of these historical units. The analysis was designed (among 
other things) to determine if Marshall's nonfirer figures were cor- 
rect in other, earlier wars. A comparison of historical combat 
performances with the performance of their test subjects (who 
were not killing with their weapons and were not in any physical 
danger from the "enemy") determined that the killing potential 
in these circumstances was much greater than the actual historical 
casualty rates. The researchers' conclusions openly supported Mar- 
shall's findings, pointing to "unwillingness to take part [in combat] 
as the main factor" that kept the actual historical killing rates 
significantly below the laser trial levels. 

But we don't need laser test trials and battle reenactments to 
determine that many soldiers have been unwilling to take part in 
combat. The evidence has been there all along if we had only 

Chapter Two 

Nonfirers Throughout History 

Nonfirers in the Civil War 

Imagine a new recruit in the American Civil War. 

Regardless of the side he was on, or whether he came in as a 
draftee or a volunteer, his training would have consisted of mind- 
numbingly-repetitive drill. Whatever time was available to teach 
even the rawest recruit was spent endlessly repeating the loading 
drill, and for any veteran of even a few weeks, loading and firing 
a musket became an act that could be completed without thinking. 

The leaders envisioned combat as consisting of great lines of 
men firing in unison. Their goal was to turn a soldier into a small 
cog in a machine that would stand and fire volley after volley at 
the enemy. Drill was their primary tool for ensuring that he would 
do his duty on the battlefield. 

The concept of drill had its roots in the harsh lessons of military 
success on battlefields dating back to the Greek phalanx. Such drill 
was perfected by the Romans. Then, as firing drill, it was turned 
into a science by Frederick the Great and then mass-produced 
by Napoleon. 

Today we understand the enormous power of drill to condition 
and program a soldier. J. Glenn Gray, in his book The Warriors, 
states that while soldiers may become exhausted and "enter into 
a dazed condition in which all sharpness of consciousness is lost" 

18 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

they can still "function like cells in a military organism, doing 
what is expected of them because it has become automatic." 

One of the most powerful examples of the military's success in 
developing conditioned reflexes through drill can be found in John 
Masters's The Road Past Mandalay, where he relates the actions of 
a machine-gun team in combat during World War II: 

The No. 1 [gunner] was 17 years old — I knew him. His No. 2 
[assistant gunner] lay on the left side, beside him, head toward the 
enemy, a loaded magazine in his hand ready to whip onto the gun 
the moment the No. 1 said "Change!" The No. 1 started firing, 
and ajapanese machine gun engaged them at close range. The No. 
1 got the first burst through the face and neck, which killed him 
instantly. But he did not die where he lay, behind the gun. He 
rolled over to the right, away from the gun, his left hand coming 
up in death to tap his No. 2 on the shoulder in the signal that 
means Take over. The No. 2 did not have to push the corpse away 
from the gun. It was already clear. 

The "take over" signal was drilled into the gunner to ensure that 
his vital weapon was never left unmanned should he ever have to 
leave. Its use in this circumstance is evidence of a conditioned 
reflex so powerful that it is completed without conscious thought 
as the last dying act of a soldier with a bullet through the brain. 
Gwynne Dyer strikes right to the heart of the matter when he 
says, "Conditioning, almost in the Pavlovian sense, is probably a 
better word than Training, for what was required of the ordinary 
soldier was not thought, but the ability to . . . load and fire their 
muskets completely automatically even under the stress of combat." 
This conditioning was accomplished by "literally thousands of 
hours of repetitive drilling" paired with "the ever-present incentive 
of physical violence as the penalty for failure to perform correctly." 

The Civil War weapon was usually a muzzle-loading, black- 
powder, rifled musket. To fire the weapon a soldier would take 
a paper-wrapped cartridge consisting of a bullet and some gunpow- 
der. He would tear the cartridge open with his teeth, pour the 

Nonfirers Throughout History 19 

powder down the barrel, set the bullet in the barrel, ram it home, 
prime the weapon with a percussion cap, cock, and fire. Since 
gravity was needed to pour the powder down the barrel, all of 
this was done from a standing position. Fighting was a stand- 
up business. 

With the introduction of the percussion cap, and the advent of 
oiled paper to wrap the cartridge in, weapons had become generally 
quite reliable even in wet weather. The oiled paper around the 
cartridge prevented the powder from becoming wet, and the per- 
cussion cap ensured a reliable ignition source. In anything but a 
driving rainstorm, a weapon would malfunction only if the ball 
was put in before the powder (an extremely rare mistake given 
the drill the soldier had gone through), or if the hole linking the 
percussion cap with the barrel was fouled — something that could 
happen after a lot of firing, but that was easily corrected. 

A minor problem could arise if a weapon was double loaded. 
In the heat of battle a soldier might sometimes be unsure as to 
whether a musket was loaded, and it was not uncommon to place 
a second load on top of the first. But such a weapon was still quite 
usable. The barrels of these weapons were heavy, and the black 
powder involved was relatively weak. Factory tests and demonstra- 
tions of weapons of this era often involved firing a rifle with various 
kinds of multiple loads in it, sometimes with a weapon loaded all 
the way to the end of the barrel. If such a weapon was fired, the 
first load would ignite and simply push all the other loads out of 
the barrel. 

These weapons were fast and accurate. A soldier could generally 
fire four or five rounds a minute. In training, or while hunting 
with a rifled musket, the hit rate would have been at least as good 
as that achieved by the Prussians with smoothbore muskets when 
they got 25 percent hits at 225 yards, 40 percent hits at 150 yards, 
and 60 percent hits at 75 yards while firing at a 100-foot by 6- 
foot target. Thus, at 75 yards, a 200-man regiment should be able 
to hit as many as 1 20 enemy soldiers in the first volley. If four 
shots were fired each minute, a regiment could potentially kill or 
wound 480 enemy soldiers in the first minute. 

20 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

The Civil War soldier was, without a doubt, the best trained 
and equipped soldier yet seen on the face of the earth. Then came 
the day of combat, the day for which he had drilled and marched 
for so long. And with that day came the destruction of all his 
preconceptions and delusions about what would happen. 

At first the vision of a long line of men with every man firing 
in unison might hold true. If the leaders maintained control, and 
if the terrain was not too broken, for a while the battle could be one 
of volleys between regiments. But even while firing in regimental 
volleys, something was wrong. Terribly, frightfully wrong. An 
average engagement would take place at thirty yards. But instead 
of mowing down hundreds of enemy soldiers in the first minute, 
regiments killed only one or two men per minute. And instead 
of the enemy formations disintegrating in a hail of lead, they stood 
and exchanged fire for hours on end. 

Sooner or later (and usually sooner), the long fines firing volleys 
in unison would begin to break down. And in the midst of the 
confusion, the smoke, the thunder of the firing, and the screams 
of the wounded, soldiers would revert from cogs in a machine to 
individuals doing what comes naturally to them. Some load, some 
pass weapons, some tend the wounded, some shout orders, a few 
run, a few wander off in the smoke or find a convenient low spot 
to sink into, and a few, a very few, shoot. 

Numerous historical references indicate that, like their World War 
II equivalents, most soldiers of the muzzle-loading-musket era 
busied themselves with other tasks during battle. For example, the 
image of a fine of soldiers standing and firing at the enemy is belied 
by this vivid account by a Civil War veteran describing the Battle 
of Antietam in Griffith's book: "Now is the pinch. Men and 
officers . . . are fused into a common mass, in the frantic struggle 
to shoot fast. Everybody tears cartridges, loads, passes guns, or 
shoots. Men are falling in their places or running back into the 

This is an image of battle that can be seen over and over again. 
In Marshall's World War II work and in this account of Civil War 
battle we see that only a few men actually fire at the enemy, while 

Nonfirers Throughout History 21 

others gather and prepare ammo, load weapons, pass weapons, or 
fall back into the obscurity and anonymity of cover. 

The process of some men electing to load and provide support 
for those who are willing to shoot at the enemy appears to have 
been the norm rather than the exception. Those who did fire, and 
were the beneficiary of all of this support, can be seen in countless 
reports collected by Griffith, in which individual Civil War soldiers 
fired one hundred, two hundred, or even an incredible four hun- 
dred rounds of ammunition in battle. This in a period when the 
standard issue of ammunition was only forty rounds, with a weapon 
that became so fouled as to be useless without cleaning after firing 
about forty shots. The extra ammunition and muskets must have 
been supplied and loaded by the firers' less aggressive comrades. 

Aside from firing over the enemy's heads, or loading and sup- 
porting those who were willing to fire, there was another option 
well understood by du Picq when he wrote: "A man falls and 
disappears, who knows whether it was a bullet or the fear of 
advancing that struck him?" Richard Gabriel, one of the foremost 
writers in the field of military psychology in our generation, notes 
that "in engagements the size of Waterloo or Sedan, the opportu- 
nity for a soldier not to fire or to refuse to press the attack by 
merely falling down and remaining in the mud was too obvious 
for shaken men under fire to ignore." Indeed, the temptation must 
have been great, and many must have done so. 

Yet despite the obvious options of firing over the enemy's head 
(posturing), or simply dropping out of the advance (a type of 
flight), and the widely accepted option of loading and supporting 
those who were willing to fire (a limited kind of fighting), evidence 
exists that during black-powder battles thousands of soldiers elected 
to passively submit to both the enemy and their leaders through 
fake or mock firing. The best indicator of this tendency toward 
mock firing can be found in the salvage of multiply-loaded weapons 
after Civil War battles. 

The Dilemma of the Discarded Weapons 

Author of the Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia F. A. Lord tells us 
that after the Batde of Gettysburg, 27,574 muskets were recovered 

22 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

from the battlefield. Of these, nearly 90 percent (twenty-four 
thousand) were loaded. Twelve thousand of these loaded muskets 
were found to be loaded more than once, and six thousand of the 
multiply loaded weapons had from three to ten rounds loaded in 
the barrel. One weapon had been loaded twenty-three times. 
Why, then, were there so many loaded weapons available on the 
battlefield, and why did at least twelve thousand soldiers misload 
their weapons in combat? 

A loaded weapon was a precious commodity on the black- 
powder battlefield. During the stand-up, face-to-face, short-range 
battles of this era a weapon should have been loaded for only a 
fraction of the time in batde. More than 95 percent of the time 
was spent in loading the weapon, and less than 5 percent in firing 
it. If most soldiers were desperately attempting to kill as quickly 
and efficiently as they could, then 95 percent should have been 
shot with an empty weapon in their hand, and any loaded, cocked, 
and primed weapon available dropped on the battlefield would 
have been snatched up from wounded or dead comrades and fired. 

There were many who were shot while charging the enemy or 
were casualties of artillery outside of musket range, and these 
individuals would never have had an opportunity to fire their 
weapons, but they hardly represent 95 percent of all casualties. If 
there is a desperate need in all soldiers to fire their weapon in 
combat, then many of these men should have died with an empty 
weapon. And as the ebb and flow of battle passed over these 
weapons, many of them should have been picked up and fired at 
the enemy. 

The obvious conclusion is that most soldiers were not trying to 
kill the enemy. Most of them appear to have not even wanted to 
fire in the enemy's general direction. As Marshall observed, most 
soldiers seem to have an inner resistance to firing their weapon in 
combat. The point here is that the resistance appears to have existed 
long before Marshall discovered it, and this resistance is the reason 
for many (if not most) of these multiply loaded weapons. 

The physical necessity for muzzle-loaders to be loaded from a 
standing position, combined with the shoulder-to-shoulder massed 

Nonfirers Throughout History 23 

firing line so beloved of the officers of this era, presented a situation 
in which — unlike that studied by Marshall — it was very difficult 
for a man to disguise the fact that he was not shooting. And in 
this volley-fire situation, what du Picq called the "mutual surveil- 
lance" of authorities and peers must have created an intense pressure 
to fire. 

There was not any "isolation and dispersion of the modern 
battlefield" to hide nonparticipants during a volley fire. Their every 
action was obvious to those comrades who stood shoulder to 
shoulder with them. If a man truly was not able or willing to fire, 
the only way he could disguise his lack of participation was to 
load his weapon (tear cartridge, pour powder, set bullet, ram it 
home, prime, cock), bring it to his shoulder, and then not actually 
fire, possibly even mimicking the recoil of his weapon when some- 
one nearby fired. 

Here was the epitome of the industrious soldier. Carefully and 
steadily loading his weapon in the midst of the turmoil, screams, 
and smoke of battle, no action of his was discernible as being 
something other than that which his superiors and comrades would 
find commendable. 

The amazing thing about these soldiers who failed to fire is that 
they did so in direct opposition to the mind-numbingly repetitive 
drills of that era. How, then, did these Civil War soldiers consis- 
tendy "fail" their drillmasters when it came to the all-important 
loading drill? 

Some may argue that these multiple loads were simply mistakes, 
and that these weapons were discarded because they were mis- 
loaded. But if in the fog of war, despite all the endless hours of 
training, you do accidentally double-load a musket, you shoot it 
anyway, and the first load simply pushes out the second load. In 
the rare event that the weapon is actually jammed or nonfunctional 
in some manner, you simply drop it and pick up another. But that 
is not what happened here, and the question we have to ask 
ourselves is, Why was firing the only step that was skipped? How 
could at least twelve thousand men from both sides and all units 
make the exact same mistake? 

24 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

Did twelve thousand soldiers at Gettysburg, dazed and confused 
by the shock of batde, accidentally double-load their weapons, 
and then were all twelve thousand of them killed before they could 
fire these weapons? Or did all twelve thousand of them discard 
these weapons for some reason and then pick up others? In some 
cases their powder may have been wet (even through their oiled- 
paper coating), but that many? And why did six thousand more 
go on to load their weapons yet again, and still not fire? Some 
may have been mistakes, and some may have been caused by bad 
powder, but I believe that the only possible explanation for the 
vast majority of these incidents is the same factor that prevented 
80 to 85 percent of World War II soldiers from firing at the enemy. 
The fact that these Civil War soldiers overcame their powerful 
conditioning (through drill) to fire clearly demonstrates the impact 
of powerful instinctive forces and supreme acts of moral will. 

If Marshall had not asked the soldiers immediately after batde 
in World War II, we would have never known the amazing 
ineffectiveness of our fire. In the same way, since no one asked 
the soldiers of the Civil War, or any other war prior to World 
War II, we cannot know the effectiveness of their fire. What we 
can do is extrapolate from the available data, and the available data 
indicate that at least half of the soldiers in black-powder batdes 
did not fire their weapons, and only a minute percentage of those 
who did fire aimed to kill the enemy with their fire. 

Now we can begin to fully understand the reasons underlying 
Paddy Griffith's discovery of an average regimental hit rate of one 
or two men per minute in firefights of the black-powder era. And 
we see that these figures strongly support Marshall's findings. With 
the rifled muskets of that era, the potential hit rate was at least as 
high as that achieved by the Prussians with smoothbore muskets 
when they got 60 percent hits at seventy-five yards. But the reality 
was a minute fraction of this. 

Griffith's figures make perfect sense if during these wars, as in 
World War II, only a small percentage of the musketeers in a 
regimental firing line were actually attempting to shoot at the 
enemy while the rest stood bravely in line firing above the enemy's 
heads or did not fire at all. 

Nonfirers Throughout History 25 

When presented with this data, some respond that they are 
specific to a civil war in which "brother fought brother." Dr. 
Jerome Frank answers such claims clearly in his book Sanity and 
Survival in the Nuclear Age, in which he points out that civil wars 
are usually more bloody, prolonged, and unrestrained than other 
types of war. And Peter Watson, in War on the Mind, points out 
that "deviant behavior by members of our own group is perceived 
as more disturbing and produces stronger retaliation than that of 
others with whom we are less involved." We need only look at 
the intensity of aggression between different Christian factions in 
Europe in the past and in Ireland, Lebanon, and Bosnia today, or 
the conflict between Leninist, Maoist, and Trotskyist Communists, 
or the horror in Rwanda and other African tribal batdes, to confirm 
this fact. 

It is my contention that most of these discarded weapons on 
the battlefield at Gettysburg represent soldiers who had been unable 
or unwilling to fire their weapons in the midst of combat and then 
had been killed, wounded, or routed. In addition to these twelve 
thousand, a similar proportion of soldiers must have marched off 
that battlefield with similarly multiloaded weapons. 

Secretly, quietly, at the moment of decision, just like the 80 to 
85 percent of World War II soldiers observed by Marshall, these 
soldiers found themselves to be conscientious objectors who were 
unable to kill their fellow man. This is the root reason for the 
incredible ineffectiveness of musket fire during this era. This is 
what happened at Gettysburg, and if you look deeply enough you 
will soon discover that this is also what happened in the other 
black-powder batdes about which we do not necessarily have the 
same kind of data. 

A case in point is the Battle of Cold Harbor. 

"Eight Minutes at Cold Harbor" 

The Battle of Cold Harbor deserves careful observation here, since 
it is the example that most casual observers of the American Civil 
War would hold up to refute an 80 to 85 percent nonfiring rate. 
In the early morning hours of the third of June 1864, forty 
thousand Union soldiers under the command of Ulysses S. Grant 

26 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

attacked the Confederate army at Cold Harbor, Virginia. The 
Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee were in a carefully pre- 
pared system of trenches and artillery emplacements unlike any- 
thing that Grant's Army of the Potomac had ever encountered. 
A newspaper correspondent observed that these positions were 
"intricate, zig-zagged lines within lines . . . lines built to enfilade 
an opposing line, lines within which lies a battery [of artillery]." 
By the evening of the third of June more than seven thousand 
attacking Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured while 
inflicting negligible damage on the well-entrenched Confederates. 

Bruce Catton, in his superb and definitive multivolume account 
of the Civil War, states, "Offhand, it would seem both difficult 
and unnecessary to exaggerate the horrors of Cold Harbor, but 
for some reason — chiefly, perhaps, the desire to paint Grant as a 
callous and uninspired butcher — no other Civil War battle gets 
as warped a presentation as this one." 

Catton is referring largely to exaggerated accounts of Union 
casualties (usually claiming the thirteen thousand casualties of two 
weeks' fighting at Cold Harbor as the casualty rate for the one day's 
fighting), but he also debunks the very common misconception that 
seven thousand (or even thirteen thousand) casualties occurred in 
"Eight Minutes at Cold Harbor." This belief is not so much wrong 
as it is a gross oversimplification. It is quite correct that most of 
the isolated, disjointed Union charges launched at Cold Harbor 
were halted in the first ten to twenty minutes, but once the 
attackers' momentum was broken the attacking Union soldiers did 
not flee, and the killing did not end. Catton notes that "the most 
amazing thing of all in this fantastic battle is the fact that all along 
the front the beaten [Union soldiers] did not pull back to the rear." 
Instead they did exactly what Union and Confederate soldiers had 
done over and over again in that war: "They stayed where they 
were, anywhere from 40 to 200 yards from the confederate line, 
gouging out such shallow trenches as they could, and kept on 
firing." And the Confederates kept on firing at them, often with 
cannons firing from the flanks and rear at horrendously short range. 
"All day long," says Catton, "the terrible sound of battle continued. 
Only an experienced soldier could tell by the sound alone, that 

Nonfirers Throughout History 27 

the pitch of the combat in midafternoon was any lower than it had 
been in the murky dawn when the charges were being repulsed." 

It took over eight hours, not eight minutes, to inflict those 
horrendous casualties on Grant's soldiers. And as in most wars 
from the time of Napoleon on down to today, it was not the 
infantry but the artillery that inflicted most of these casualties. 

Only when artillery (with its close supervision and mutual sur- 
veillance processes among the crew) is brought into play can any 
significant change in this killing rate be observed. (The greater 
distance that artillery usually is from its targets, as we will see, also 
increases its effectiveness.) The simple fact appears to be that, like 
S. L. A. Marshall's riflemen of World War II, the vast majority of 
the rifle- and musket-armed soldiers of previous wars were consis- 
tent and persistent in their psychological inability to kill their fellow 
human beings. Their weapons were technologically capable, and 
they were physically quite able to kill, but at the decisive moment 
each man became, in his heart, a conscientious objector who could 
not bring himself to kill the man standing before him. 

This all indicates that there is a force in play here. A previously 
undiscovered psychological force. A force stronger than drill, 
stronger than peer pressure, even stronger than the self-preservation 
instinct. The impact of this force is not limited to only the black- 
powder era or only to World War II: it can also be seen in World 
War I. 

Nonfirers of World War I 

Colonel Milton Mater served as an infantry company commander 
in World War II and relates several World War II experiences 
that strongly support Marshall's observations. Mater also provides 
us with several instances in which World War I veterans warned 
him to expect that there would be many nonfirers in combat. 

When he first joined the service in 1933, Mater asked his uncle, 
a veteran of World War I, about his combat experience. "I was 
amazed to find that the experience foremost in his mind was 
'draftees who wouldn't shoot.' He expressed it something like this: 
'They thought if they didn't shoot at the Germans, the Germans 
wouldn't shoot at them.'" 

28 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

Another veteran of the trenches of World War I taught Mater 
in an ROTC class in 1937 that, based on his experiences, nonfirers 
would be a problem in any future war. "He took pains to impress 
us with the difficulty of making some men fire their rifles to avoid 
becoming sitting ducks for the fire and movement of the enemy." 

There is ample indication of the existence of the resistance to 
killing and that it appears to have existed at least since the black- 
powder era. This lack of enthusiasm for killing the enemy causes 
many soldiers to posture, submit, or flee, rather than fight; it 
represents a powerful psychological force on the battlefield; and 
it is a force that is discernible throughout the history of man. The 
application and understanding of this force can lend new insight 
to military history, the nature of war, and the nature of man. 

Chapter Three 

Why Can't Johnny Kill? 

Why did individual soldiers over hundreds of years refuse to kill 
the enemy, even when they knew that doing so would endanger 
their own lives? And why, if this has been so throughout history, 
have we not been fully aware of it? 

Why Can't Johnny Kill? 

Many veteran hunters, upon hearing accounts of nonfirers, might 
say, "Aha, buck fever," and they would be quite right. But what 
is buck fever? And why do men experience during the hunt that 
inability to kill that we call buck fever? (The relationship between 
the failures to kill on the battlefield and failures to kill in the hunt 
are explored more completely in a later section.) We must turn 
back to S. L. A. Marshall for the answer. 

Marshall studied this issue during the entire period of World War 
II. He, more than any other individual prior to him, understood the 
thousands of soldiers who did not fire at the enemy, and he con- 
cluded that "the average and healthy individual . . . has such an 
inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man 
that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to 
turn away from that responsibility. ... At the vital point," says 
Marshall, the soldier "becomes a conscientious objector." 

30 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

Marshall understood the mechanics and emotions of combat. 
He was a combat veteran of World War I, asking the combat 
veterans of World War II about their responses to battle, and he 
understood, he had been there. "I well recall . . . ," said Marshall, 
"the great sense of relief that came to [World War I] troops when 
they were passed to a quiet sector." And he believed that this 
"was due not so much to the realization that things were safer 
there as to the blessed knowledge that for a time they were not 
under the compulsion to take life." In his experience that philosophy 
of the World War I soldier was "Let 'em go; we'll get 'em some 
other time." 

Dyer also studied the matter carefully, building his knowledge 
on those who knew, and he too understood that "men will kill 
under compulsion — men will do almost anything if they know 
it is expected of them and they are under strong social pressure 
to comply — but the vast majority of men are not born killers." 

The U.S. Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force) ran head- 
on into this problem when it discovered that during World War 
II less than 1 percent of their fighter pilots accounted for 30 to 
40 percent of all enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, and according 
to Gabriel, most fighter pilots "never shot anyone down or even 
tried to." Some suggest that simple fear was the force that prevented 
these men from killing, but these pilots usually flew in small groups 
led by proven killers who took the nonkillers into dangerous 
situations, and these men bravely followed. But when it came time 
to kill, they looked into the cockpit at another man, a pilot, a 
flier, one of the "brotherhood of the air," a man frighteningly like 
themselves; and when faced with such a man it is possible that the 
vast majority simply could not kill him. The pilots of both fighter 
and bomber aircraft faced the terrible dilemma of air combat against 
others of their own kind, and this was a significant factor in making 
their task difficult. (The matter of the mechanics of killing in air 
battles and the U.S. Air Force's remarkable discoveries in at- 
tempting to preselect "killers" for pilot training are addressed later 
in this study.) 

That the average man will not kill even at the risk of all he 
holds dear has been largely ignored by those who attempt to 

Why Can't Johnny Kill? 31 

understand the psychological and sociological pressures of the 
battlefield. Looking another human being in the eye, making an 
independent decision to kill him, and watching as he dies due to 
your action combine to form the single most basic, important, 
primal, and potentially traumatic occurrence of war. If we under- 
stand this, then we understand the magnitude of the horror of 
killing in combat. 

The Israeli military psychologist Ben Shalit in his book The 
Psychology of Conflict and Combat, referring to Marshall's studies, 
says that it is "clear that many soldiers do not shoot directly at the 
enemy. Many reasons are given; one of them — which, oddly 
enough, is not often discussed — may be the reluctance of the individ- 
ual to act in a direct aggressive way." 

Why is this not often discussed? If Johnny can't kill, if the 
average soldier will not kill unless coerced and conditioned and 
provided with mechanical and mental leverage, then why has it 
not been understood before? 

British field marshal Evelyn Wood has said that in war only 
cowards need lie. I believe that to call the men who did not fire 
in combat cowards is grossly inaccurate, but those who did not 
fire do, indeed, have something to hide. Or at the very least 
something that they would not be very proud of and would readily 
lie about in later years. The point is that (1) an intense, traumatic, 
guilt-laden situation will inevitably result in a web of forgetfulness, 
deception, and lies; (2) such situations that continue for thousands 
of years become institutions based on a tangled web of individual 
and cultural forgetfulness, deception, and lies tightly woven over 
thousands of yean; and (3) for the most part there have been two 
such institutions about which the male ego has always justified 
selective memory, self-deception, and lying. These two institutions 
are sex and combat. After all, "All is fair in love and war." 

For thousands of years we did not understand human sexuality. 
We understood the big things about sex. We knew that it made 
babies, and it worked. But we had no idea how human sexuality 
affected the individual. Until the studies of human sexuality by 
Sigmund Freud and researchers of this century we had not even 

32 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

begun to really understand the role that sex played in our lives. 
For thousands of years we did not truly study sex and therefore 
had no hope of ever understanding it. The very fact that in studying 
sex we were studying ourselves made impartial observation diffi- 
cult. Sex was especially difficult to study because so much of the 
ego and self-esteem of each individual was invested in this area 
full of myths and misunderstanding. 

If someone was impotent or frigid, would he or she let that be 
common knowledge? If the majority of the marriages of two 
centuries ago suffered problems with impotence or frigidity, would 
we have known? An educated man of two hundred years ago 
would have probably said, "They manage to make plenty of babies, 
don't they? They must be doing something right!" 

And if one hundred years ago a researcher discovered that sexual 
abuse of children was rampant in society, how would such a 
discovery be treated? Freud made just such a discovery, and he 
was personally disgraced and professionally scorned by his peers 
and by society at large for even suggesting such a thing. It is only 
today, one hundred years later, that we have begun to accept and 
address the magnitude of sexual abuse of children in our society. 

Until someone with authority and credibility asked individuals 
in privacy and with dignity, we had no hope of ever realizing 
what was occurring sexually in our culture. And even under such 
circumstances, society as a whole has to be sufficiendy prepared 
and enlightened in order to throw off the blinders that limit its 
ability to perceive itself. 

In the same way that we did not understand what was occurring 
in the bedroom, we have not understood what was occurring on 
the battlefield. Our ignorance of the destructive act matched that 
of the procreative act. If a soldier would not kill in combat, when 
it was his duty and responsibility to do so, would he let that be 
common knowledge? And if the majority of soldiers two hundred 
years ago did not fulfill their duties on the battlefield, would we 
have known? A general of the era would probably have said, "They 
manage to kill plenty of people don't they? They won the war 

Why Can't Johnny Kill? 33 

for us didn't they? They must be doing something right!" Until 
S. L. A. Marshall asked the individuals involved, immediately after 
the fact, we had no hope of understanding what was occurring 
on the battlefield. 

Philosophers and psychologists have long been aware of man's 
basic inability to perceive that which is closest to him. Sir Norman 
Angell tells us that "it is quite in keeping with man's curious 
intellectual history, that the simplest and most important questions 
are those he asks least often." And the philosopher-soldier Glenn 
Gray speaks from personal experience in World War II when he 
observes that "few of us can hold on to our real selves long enough 
to discover the real truths about ourselves and this whirling earth 
to which we cling. This is especially true," observes Gray, "of 
men in war. The great god Mars tries to blind us when we enter 
his realm, and when we leave he gives us a generous cup of the 
waters of Lethe to drink." 

If a professional soldier were to see through the fog of his own 
self-deception, and if he were to face the cold reality that he can't 
do what he has dedicated his life to, or that many of his soldiers 
would rather die than do their duty, it would make his life a He. 
Such a man would be apt to deny his weakness with all the energy 
he could muster. No, the soldiers are not apt to write of their 
failures or the failures of their men; with few exceptions, it is only 
the heroes and the glory that make their way into print. 

Part of the reason for our lack of knowledge in this area is that 
combat is, like sex, laden with a baggage of expectations and myth. 
A belief that most soldiers will not kill the enemy in close combat 
is contrary to what we want to believe about ourselves, and it is 
contrary to what thousands of years of military history and culture 
have told us. But are the perceptions handed down to us by our 
culture and our historians accurate, unbiased, and reliable? 

In A History of Militarism, Alfred Vagts accuses military history, 
as an institution, of having played a large part in the process of 
militarizing minds. Vagts complains that military history is consis- 
tendy written "with polemic purpose for the justification of indi- 
viduals or armies and with small regard for socially relevant facts." 

34 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

He states, "A very large part of military history is written, if not 
for the express purpose of supporting an army's authority, at least 
with the intention of not hurting it, not revealing its secrets, 
avoiding the betrayal of weakness, vacillation, or distemper." 

Vagts paints an image of military and historical institutions that 
for thousands of yean have reinforced and supported each other 
in a process of mutual glorification and aggrandizement. To a 
certain extent, this is probably because those who are good at 
killing in war are quite often those who throughout history have 
hacked their way to power. The military and the politicians have 
been the same people for all but the most recent part of human 
history, and we know that the victor writes the history books. 

As a historian, as a soldier, and as a psychologist, I believe that 
Vagts is quite correct. If for thousands of years the vast majority 
of soldiers secredy and privately were less than enthused about 
killing their fellow man on the batdefield, the professional soldiers 
and their chroniclers would be the last to let us know the inadequa- 
cies of their particular charges. 

The media in our modern information society have done much 
to perpetuate the myth of easy killing and have thereby become 
part of society's unspoken conspiracy of deception that glorifies 
killing and war. There are exceptions — such as Gene Hackman's 
Bat 21, in which an air force officer has to kill people up close 
and personal for a change and is horrified at what he has done — but 
for the most part we are given James Bond, Luke Skywalker, 
Rambo, and Indiana Jones blithely and remorselessly killing off 
men by the hundreds. The point here is that there is as much 
disinformation and as little insight concerning the nature of killing 
coming from the media as from any other aspect of our society. 

Even after Marshall's World War II revelations, the subject of 
nonfirers is an uncomfortable one for today's military. Writing in 
Army magazine — the U.S. Army's foremost military journal — 
Colonel Mater states that his experiences as an infantry company 
commander in World War II strongly supported Marshall's findings 
and noted several World War I anecdotes that suggest that the 
problem of nonfirers was just as serious in that war. 

Why Can't Johnny Kill? 35 

Mater then bitterly — and appropriately — complains that 
"thinking back over my many years of service, I cannot remember 
a single official lecture or class discussion of how to assure that 
your men will fire." This included "such formal schooling as the 
wartime Infantry Leadership and Battle School I attended in Italy 
and the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, 
Kansas, that I attended in 1966. Nor do I remember any articles 
on the subject in Army magazine or other military publications." 5 
Colonel Mater concludes, "It is as if there were a conspiracy of 
silence around this subject: 'We don't know what to do about 
it — so let's forget it.'" 

There does indeed seem to be a conspiracy of silence on this 
subject. In his book War on the Mind, Peter Watson observes that 
Marshall's findings have been largely ignored by academia and the 
fields of psychology and psychiatry, but they were very much 
taken to heart by the U.S. Army, and a number of training measures 
were instituted as a result of Marshall's suggestions. According to 
studies by Marshall, these changes resulted in a firing rate of 55 
percent in Korea and, according to a study by Scott, a 90 to 95 
percent firing rate was attained in Vietnam. Some modern soldiers 
use the disparity between the firing rates of World War II and 
Vietnam to claim that Marshall had to be wrong, for the average 
military leader has great difficulty in believing that any significant 
body of his soldiers will not do their job in combat. But these 
doubters don't give sufficient credit to the revolutionary corrective 
measures and training methods introduced since World War II. 

The training methods that increased the firing rate from 15 
pecent to 90 percent are referred to as "programming" or "condi- 
tioning" by some of the veterans I have interviewed, and they do 
appear to represent a form of classical and operant conditioning 
(a la Pavlov's dog and B. F. Skinner's rats), which is addressed in 
detail in the section "Killing in Vietnam." The unpleasantness of 
this subject, combined with the remarkable success of the army's 
training programs, and the lack of official recognition might imply 
that it is classified. But there is no secret master plan responsible 
for the lack of attention given to this subject. There is instead, in 
the words of philosopher-psychologist Peter Marin, "a massive 

36 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

unconscious cover-up" in which society hides itself from the true 
nature of combat. Even among the psychological and psychiatric 
literature on war, "there is," writes Marin, "a kind of madness at 
work." He notes, "Repugnance toward killing and the refusal to 
kill" are referred to as "acute combat reaction." And psychological 
trauma resulting from "slaughter and atrocity are called 'stress,' as 
if the clinicians . . . are talking about an executive's overwork." 
As a psychologist I believe that Marin is quite correct when he 
observes, "Nowhere in the [psychiatric and psychological] litera- 
ture is one allowed to glimpse what is actually occurring: the real 
horror of the war and its effect on those who fought it." 

It would be almost impossible to keep something of this nature 
classified for more than fifty years now, and those in the military 
who do understand — the Marshalls and the Maters — are crying 
out their messages, but no one wants to hear their truths. 

No, it is not a military conspiracy. There is, indeed, a cover- 
up and a "conspiracy of silence," but it is a cultural conspiracy of 
forgetfulness, distortion, and lies that has been going on for thou- 
sands of yean. And just as we have begun to wipe away the cultural 
conspiracy of guilt and silence concerning sex, we must now wipe 
away this similar conspiracy that obscures the very nature of war. 

Chapter Four 

The Nature and Source of the Resistance 

Where does this resistance to killing one's fellow man come from? 
Is it learned, instinctive, rational, environmental, hereditary, cul- 
tural, or social? Or some combination thereof? 

One of Freud's most valuable insights involves the existence of 
the life instinct (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Freud 
believed that within each individual there is a constant struggle 
between the superego (the conscience) and the id (that dark, lurk- 
ing mass of destructive and animal urges residing within each of 
us), and that the struggle is mediated by the ego (the self). One 
wit once referred to this situation as "a struggle in a locked, 
dark basement; between a homicidal sex-crazed monkey and a 
puritanical old maid; being mediated by a timid accountant." 

In batde we see the id, the ego, the superego, Thanatos, and 
Eros in turmoil within each soldier. The id wields the Thanatos 
like a club and screams at the ego to kill. The superego appears 
to have been neutralized, for authority and society say that now 
it is good to do what has always been bad. Yet something stops 
the soldier from killing. What? Could it be that Eros, the life force, 
is much stronger than ever before understood? 

Much has been made of the obvious existence and manifestation 
of Thanatos in war, but what if there is within most men a stronger 
drive than Thanatos? What if there is within each person a force 

38 Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

that understands at some gut level that all humanity is inextricably 
interdependent and that to harm any part is to harm the whole? 

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood this force 
even as he fought desperate battles against the barbarians who 
would ultimately destroy Rome. "Every individual dispensation," 
wrote Marcus Aurelius, more than a millennia and a half ago, "is 
one of the causes of the prosperity, success, and even survival of 
That which administers the universe. To break off any particle, 
no matter how small, from the continuous concatenation — 
whether of causes or of any other elements — is to injure the 

Holmes records another veteran who, almost two millennia after 
Marcus Aurelius, grasped the same concept when he observed that 
some of the marines he was with in Vietnam reached a point 
of reflection after battle in which they "came to see the young 
Vietnamese they had killed as allies in a bigger war of individual 
existence, as young men with whom they were united throughout 
their lives against the impersonal 'thems' of the world." Holmes 
then makes a timeless and powerful perception about the psyche 
of the American soldier when he notes that "in killing the grunts 
of North Vietnam, the grunts of America had killed a part of them- 

Perhaps this is why we avoid this truth. Perhaps to truly under- 
stand the magnitude of the resistance to killing is also to understand 
the magnitude of man's inhumanity to man. Glenn Gray, driven 
by his own personal guilt and anguish resulting from his World 
War II experiences, cries out with the pain of every self-aware 
soldier who has thought this matter through: "I, too, belong to 
this species. I am ashamed not only of my own deeds, not only 
of my nation's deeds, but of human deeds as well. I am ashamed 
to be a man. 

"This," says Gray, "is the culmination of a passionate logic 
which begins in warfare with the questioning of some act the 
soldier has been ordered to perform contrary to his conscience." 
If this process continues, then "consciousness of failure to act in 
response to conscience can lead to the greatest revulsion, not only 
for oneself, but for the human species." 

The Nature And Source of the Resistance 39 

We may never understand the nature of this force in man that 
causes him to strongly resist killing his fellow man, but we can 
give praise for it to whatever force we hold responsible for our 
existence. And although military leaders responsible for winning 
a war may be distressed by it, as a race we can view it with pride. 

There can be no doubt that this resistance to killing one's fellow 
man is there and that it exists as a result of a powerful combination 
of instinctive, rational, environmental, hereditary, cultural, and 
social factors. It is there, it is strong, and it gives us cause to believe 
that there may just be hope for mankind after all. 


Killing and Combat Trauma: 

The Role of Killing in Psychiatric Casualties 

Nations customarily measure the "costs of war" in dollars, lost 
production, or the number of soldiers killed or wounded. Rarely 
do military establishments attempt to measure the costs of war in 
terms of individual human suffering. Psychiatric breakdown remains 
one of the most costly items of war when expressed in human terms. 

— Richard Gabriel 
No More Heroes 

Chapter One 

The Nature of Psychiatric Casualties: 
The Psychological Price of War 

Richard Gabriel tells us that "in every war in which American 
soldiers have fought in this century, the chances of becoming a 
psychiatric casualty — of being debilitated for some period of time 
as a consequence of the stresses of military life — were greater 
than the chances of being killed by enemy fire." 

During World War II more than 800,000 men were classified 
4-F (unfit for military service) due to psychiatric reasons. Despite 
this effort to weed out those mentally and emotionally unfit for 
combat, America's armed forces lost an additional 504,000 men 
from the fighting effort because of psychiatric collapse — enough 
to man fifty divisions! At one point in World War II, psychiatric 
casualties were being discharged from the U.S. Army faster than 
new recruits were being drafted in. 

In the brief 1973 Arab-Israeli War, almost a third of all Israeli 
casualties were due to psychiatric causes, and the same seems to 
have been true among the opposing Egyptian forces. In the 1982 
incursion into Lebanon, Israeli psychiatric casualties were twice as 
high as the number of dead. 

Swank and Marchand's much-cited World War II study deter- 
mined that after sixty days of continuous combat, 98 percent of all 


Killing and Combat Trauma 

Period of 
Maximum Efficiency 

Combat Exhaustion 


Emotional Exhaustion 


Days in Combat 

The Relation of Stress and the Development of Combat Exhaustion to the Combat 
Efficiency of the Average Soldier 

Source: Swank and Marchand, 1946 

surviving soldiers will have become psychiatric casualties of one 
kind or another. Swank and Marchand also found a common trait 
among the 2 percent who are able to endure sustained combat: a 
predisposition toward "aggressive psychopathic personalities." 

The British in World War I believed that their soldiers were 
good for several hundred days before inevitably becoming a psychi- 
atric casualty. But this was only made possible by the British 
policy of rotating men out of combat for four days of rest after 
approximately twelve days of combat, as opposed to America's 
World War II policy of leaving soldiers in combat for up to eighty 
days at a stretch. 

It is interesting to note that spending months of continuous expo- 
sure *o the stresses of combat is a phenomenon found only on the 
battlehJds of this century. Even the years-long sieges of previous 

The Nature of Psychiatric Casualties 45 

centuries provided ample respites from combat, largely due to 
limitations of artillery and tactics. The actual times of personal risk 
were seldom more than a few hours in duration. Some psychiatric 
casualties have always been associated with war, but it is only in 
this century that our physical and logistical capability to sustain 
combat has completely outstripped our psychological capacity to 
endure it. 

The Manifestations of Psychiatric Casualties 

In his book No More Heroes Richard Gabriel examines the many 
historical symptoms and manifestations of psychiatric casualties. 1 
Among these are fatigue cases, confusional states, conversion hyste- 
ria, anxiety states, obsessional and compulsive states, and charac- 
ter disorders. 

Fatigue Cases 

This state of physical and mental exhaustion is one of the earliest 
symptoms. Increasingly unsociable and overly irritable, the soldier 
loses interest in all activities with comrades and seeks to avoid any 
responsibility or activity involving physical or mental effort. He 
becomes prone to crying fits or fits of extreme anxiety or terror. 
There will also be such somatic symptoms as hypersensitivity to 
sound, increased sweating, and palpitations. Such fatigue cases set 
the stage for further and more complete collapse. If the soldier is 
forced to remain in combat, such collapse becomes inevitable; the 
only real cure is evacuation and rest. 

Confusional States 

Fatigue can quickly shift into the psychotic dissociation from reality 
that marks confusional states. Usually, the soldier no longer knows 
who he is or where he is. Unable to deal with his environment, he 
has mentally removed himself from it. Symptoms include delirium, 
psychotic dissociation, and manic-depressive mood swings. One 
often noted response is Ganzer syndrome, in which the soldier 
will begin to make jokes, act silly, and otherwise try to ward off 
the horror with humor and the ridiculous. 

46 Killing and Combat Trauma 

The degree of affliction in confusional states can range from the 
merely neurotic to the overtly psychotic. The sense of humor 
exhibited in the movie and television series M*A*S*H is an excel- 
lent example of individuals mildly afflicted with Ganzer syndrome. 
And this personal narrative provides a look at a man severely 
afflicted with Ganzer syndrome: 

"Get that thing out of my face, Hunter, or I'll feed it to you with 
hot sauce." 

"C'mon, Sarge, don't you want to shake hands with 'Herbert'?" 

"Hunter, you're f- ed up. Anybody who'd bring back a gook 

arm is sick. Anybody who'd bring one in the tent is begging for 
extra guard. You don't know where that thing's been. QUIT 

"Aw, Sarge, 'Herbert' just wants to make friends. He's lonely 
without his old friends, 'Mr. Foot' and 'Mr. Ballbag.' " 

"Double guard tonight, Hunter, and all week. Goodbye, sicko. 
Enjoy your guard." 

"Say good night to 'Herbert,' everyone." 

"OUT! OUT!" 

Black humor of course. Hard laughs for the hard guys. After a 
time, nothing was sacred. If Mom could only see what her little 
boy was playing with now. 

Or what they were paying him to do. 

— W. Norris 

"Rhodesia Fireforce Commandos" 

Conversion Hysteria 

Conversion hysteria can occur traumatically during combat or 
post-traumatically, years later. Conversion hysteria can manifest 
itself as an inability to know where one is or to function at all, 
often accompanied by aimless wandering around the battlefield 
with complete disregard for evident dangers. Upon occasion the 
soldier becomes amnesiatic, blocking out large parts of his memory. 
Often, hysteria degenerates into convulsive attacks in which the 
soldier rolls into the fetal position and begins to shake violendy. 

The Nature of Psychiatric Casualties 47 

Gabriel notes that during both world wars cases of contractive 
paralysis of the arm were quite common, and usually the arm used 
to pull the trigger was the one that became paralyzed. A soldier 
may become hysterical after being knocked out by a concussion, 
after receiving a minor nondebilitating wound, or after experienc- 
ing a near miss. Hysteria can also show up after a wounded soldier 
has been evacuated to a hospital or rear area. Once he is there, 
hysteria can begin to emerge, most often as a defense against 
returning to fight. Whatever the physical manifestation, it is always 
the mind that produces the symptoms, in order to escape or avoid 
the horror of combat. 

Anxiety States 

These states are characterized by feelings of total weariness and 
tenseness that cannot be relieved by sleep or rest, degenerating 
into an inability to concentrate. When he can sleep, the soldier 
is often awakened by terrible nightmares. Ultimately the soldier 
becomes obsessed with death and the fear that he will fail or that 
the men in his unit will discover that he is a coward. Generalized 
anxiety can easily slip into complete hysteria. Frequently anxiety 
is accompanied by shortness of breath, weakness, pain, blurred 
vision, giddiness, vasomotor abnormalities, and fainting. 

Another reaction, which is commonly seen in Vietnam veterans 
suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), years after combat, 
is emotional hypertension, in which the soldier's blood pressure 
rises dramatically with all the accompanying symptoms of sweating, 
nervousness, and so on. 2 

Obsessional and Compulsive States 

These states are similar to conversion hysteria, except that here 
the soldier realizes the morbid nature of his symptoms and that 
his fears are at their root. Even so, his tremors, palpitations, stam- 
mers, tics, and so on cannot be controlled. Eventually the soldier 
is likely to take refuge in some type of hysterical reaction that allows 
him to escape psychic responsibility for his physical symptoms. 

48 Killing and Combat Trauma 

Character Disorders 

Character disorders include obsessional traits in which the soldier 
becomes fixated on certain actions or things; paranoid trends ac- 
companied by irascibility, depression, and anxiety, often taking 
on the tone of threats to his safety; schizoid trends leading to 
hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptoid character reactions ac- 
companied by periodic rages; the development of extreme dramatic 
religiosity; and finally degeneration into a psychotic personality. 
What has happened to the soldier is an altering of his fundamen- 
tal personality. 

These are only some of the possible symptoms of psychiatric 
casualties in war. Gabriel notes that "The mind has shown itself 
infinitely capable of bringing about any number of combinations 
of symptoms and then, to make matters worse, burying them deep 
in the soldier's psyche so that even the overt manifestations become 
symptoms of deeper symptoms of even deeper underlying causes." 
The key understanding to take away from this litany of mental 
illness is that within a few months of sustained combat some symp- 
toms of stress will develop in almost all participating soldiers. 

Treating the Mentally Maimed 

Treatment for these many manifestations of combat stress involves 
simply removing the soldier from the combat environment. Until 
the post- Vietnam era, when hundreds of thousands of PTSD cases 
appeared, this was the only treatment believed necessary to permit 
the soldier to return to a normal life. But the problem is that the 
military does not want to simply return the psychiatric casualty to 
normal life, it wants to return him to combat! And he is understand- 
ably reluctant to go. 

The evacuation syndrome is the paradox of combat psychiatry. 
A nation must care for its psychiatric casualties, since they are of 
no value on the battlefield — indeed, their presence in combat 
can have a negative impact on the morale of other soldiers — and 
they can still be used again as valuable seasoned replacements once 
they've recovered from combat stress. But if soldiers begin to 
realize that insane soldiers are being evacuated, the number of 

The Nature of Psychiatric Casualties 49 

psychiatric casualties will increase dramatically. An obvious solution 
to this problem is to rotate troops out of battle for periodic rest 
and recuperation — this is standard policy in most Western ar- 
mies — but this is not always possible in combat. 

Proximity — or forward treatment — and expectancy are the 
principles developed to overcome the paradox of evacuation syn- 
drome. These concepts, which have proved themselves quite effec- 
tive since World War I, involve (1) treatment of the psychiatric 
casualty as far forward on the batdefield as possible — that is, in 
the closest possible proximity to the batdefield, often still inside 
enemy artillery range — and (2) constant communication to the 
casualty by leadership and medical personnel of their expectancy 
that he will be rejoining his comrades in the front line as soon as 
possible. These two factors permit the psychiatric casualty to get 
the much-needed rest that is the only current cure for his problem, 
while not giving a message to still-healthy comrades that psychiatric 
casualty is a ticket off of the battlefield. 

Limited chemical treatments have been used in recent years to 
assist in the recovery process. According to Watson, "the so-called 
truth drugs have also been used near the front line to 'abreact' 
soldiers who are shell-shocked." Such drugs have reportedly been 
used with some success by the Israelis to induce psychiatric casual- 
ties to "talk through the circumstances leading to their reaction, 
an activity which appears to prevent their fears being 'bottled up' 
and so causing some other, long-term syndrome." 

But the use of chemicals in combat may not be quite so benign 
in the future. Gabriel, a retired intelligence officer and consultant to 
both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, provides a 
chilling note on the future of the treatment and prevention of 
combat psychiatric casualties. He believes that the armed forces of 
both the West and the East are searching for a chemical answer to 
this problem. Gabriel warns that the perfection of a "nondepleting 
neurotrop" to be given to soldiers prior to battle would result in 
"armies of sociopaths." 

Gabriel concludes from his research that "one can but mar- 
vel at the inventiveness of the human psyche in its efforts to es- 
cape its surrounding horror." Similarly, we must marvel at the 

50 Killing and Combat Trauma 

inventiveness of modern armies and nations in their efforts to 
ensure that they get full value from their soldiers. And we cannot 
help but come away with an image of war as one of the most 
horrifying and traumatic acts a human being can participate in. War 
is an environment that will psychologically debilitate 98 percent of 
all who participate in it for any length of time. And the 2 percent 
who are not driven insane by war appear to have already been 
insane — aggressive psychopaths — before coming to the battle- 

Chapter Two 
The Reign of Fear 

If I had time and anything like your ability to study war, I think 
I should concentrate almost entirely on the "actualities of war" — 
the effects of tiredness, hunger, fear, lack of sleep, weather. . . . 
The principles of strategy and tactics, and the logistics of war 
are really absurdly simple: it is the actualities that make war so 
complicated and so difficult, and are usually so neglected by his- 

— Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in a letter to Liddell Hart 

What goes on in the mind of a soldier in combat? What are the 
emotional reactions and underlying processes that cause the vast 
majority of those who survive sustained combat to ultimately slip 
into insanity? 

Let us use a model as a framework for the understanding and 
study of psychiatric casualty causation, a metaphorical model repre- 
senting and integrating the factors of fear, exhaustion, guilt and 
horror, hate, fortitude, and killing. Each of these factors will be 
examined and then integrated into the overall model to present a 
detailed understanding of the combat soldier's psychological and 
physiological state. 

The first of these factors is Fear. 

52 Killing and Combat Trauma 

Research and the Reign of Fear 

A variety of past investigators came up with an overly simplis- 
tic — yet widely accepted — explanation for psychiatric casualties 
when they declared that the cause of most trauma in war is the 
fear of death and injury. In 1946 Appel and Beebe held that the 
key to understanding the psychiatric problems of combat soldiers 
was the simple fact that the danger of being killed or maimed 
imposed a strain so great that it caused men to break down. And 
Watson, a London Times journalist who made a multiyear study 
of the application of psychology and psychiatry to war, concludes 
in his book War on the Mind that "combat stress, with its real fear 
of death, is quite different from other kinds of stress." 

But clinical studies that tried to demonstrate that fear of death 
and injury are responsible for psychiatric casualties have been con- 
sistendy unsuccessful. An example of such a study is Mitchell 
Berkun's 1958 research into the nature of psychiatric breakdown 
in combat. Berkun began with a concern for "the role played by 
fear, that, is by a concern about possible death or injury in the 
response to adverse environments." In one of his experiments 
soldiers on board a military transport aircraft were told that their 
pilot would soon be forced to crash-land the plane. The men put 
through the controversial — and by today's standards unethi- 
cal — fear-provoking situations in these Human Resources Re- 
search Office tests were then given "long psychiatric interviews 
before and after and again weeks later to see whether there were 
any hidden effects. None were found." 

The Israeli military psychologist Ben Shalit asked Israeli soldiers 
immediately after combat what most frightened them. The answer 
that he expected was "loss of life" or "injury and abandonment 
in the field." He was therefore surprised to discover the low 
emphasis on fear of bodily harm and death, and the great emphasis 
on "letting others down." 

Shalit conducted a similar survey of Swedish peacekeeping forces 
who had not had combat experience. In this instance he received 
the expected answer of "death and injury" as the "most frightening 
factor in batde. His conclusion was that combat experience de- 
creases fear of death or injury. 

The Reign of Fear 53 

In both the Berkun and Shalit studies we see indications that 
fear of death and injury is not the primary cause of psychiatric 
casualties on the battlefield. Indeed, Shalit found that even in the 
face of a society and culture that tell the soldiers that selfish fear 
of death and injury should be their primary concern, it is instead 
the fear of not being able to meet the terrible obligations of combat 
that weighs most heavily on the minds of combat soldiers. 

One of the reasons that fear may have been generally accepted 
as the major explanation for combat stress is that it has become 
socially acceptable. How many times have we heard in movies 
and on television that only fools are not afraid? Such acceptance 
of fear is a part of modern culture. But we still tend to carefully 
avoid any examination of what kind of fear — fear of death, injury, 
failure, and so on. 

During World War II the U.S. Army intentionally built a per- 
missive attitude toward fear, and Stouffer's landmark World War 
II studies of 1949 show that men who exhibited controlled fear 
were not generally poorly regarded by their peers. Indeed, during 
World War II, in a widely distributed pamphlet entitled Army Life, 
the U.S. Army told its soldiers: "YOU'LL BE SCARED. Sure 
you'll be scared. Before you go into battle you'll be frightened at 
the uncertainty, at the thought of being killed." A statistician 
would call that biasing the sample. 

Research in this field has been that of blind men groping at the 
elephant — one grasps what he thinks is a tree, another finds a 
wall, and still another discovers a snake. All have a piece of the 
puzzle, a piece of the truth, but none is completely correct. 

There is within us the need to say what is socially acceptable, 
and like blind men groping at some vast beast, we tend to report 
that aspect of its anatomy that we already expect to find, and we 
reject those manifestations with which we feel uncomfortable. The 
supplied, accepted, comfortable name for this beast is "fear." 

And few people are comfortable when dealing with such power- 
ful alternative explanations as guilt. Fear is a specific yet brief and 
fleeting emotion that lies within the individual, but guilt is often 
long term and can belong to the society as a whole. When we 
are faced with hard questions and the difficult task of introspection, 

54 Killing and Combat Trauma 

it is very easy to avoid the truth and give the socially acceptable 
answers that war literature, Hollywood films, and scientific litera- 
ture tell us we should give. 

Fear's Place in the Soldier's Dilemma 

Fear of death and injury is not the only, or even the major, cause 
of psychiatric casualties in combat. That is not to say that there is 
not some wisdom in this common understanding of battle, but 
the whole truth is far more complex and horrible. This is also not 
to suggest that the carnage and death of battle are not horrible 
and that the fear of violent death and injury is not a traumatic 
thing. These factors by themselves, however, are not sufficient 
to cause the mass exodus of psychiatric casualties found on the 
modern battlefield. 

There are deeper underlying causes for the psychiatric casualties 
suffered by soldiers in combat. Resistance to overt aggressive con- 
frontation, in addition to the fear of death and injury, is responsible 
for much of the trauma and stress on the battlefield. Thus, the 
Reign of Fear is represented as only one contributing factor in 
the soldier's dilemma. Fear, combined with exhaustion, hate, hor- 
ror, and the irreconcilable task of balancing these with the need 
to kill, eventually drives the soldier so deeply into a mire of guilt 
and horror that he tips over the brink into that region that we 
call insanity. Indeed, fear may be one of the least important of 
these factors. 

Ending the Reign of Fear 

Nonkillers are frequently exposed to the same brutal conditions 
as killers, conditions that cause fear, but they do not become 
psychiatric casualties. In most circumstances in which nonkillers 
are faced with the threat of death and injury in war, the instances 
of psychiatric casualties are notably absent. These circumstances 
include civilian victims of strategic bombing attacks, civilians and 
prisoners of war under artillery fire and bombings, sailors on board 

The Reign of Fear 55 

ship during combat, soldiers on reconnaissance missions behind 
enemy lines, medical personnel, and officers in combat. 

Fear and Civilian Victims of Bombing Attacks 

The Italian infantry officer Giulio Douhet became the world's first 
recognized airpower theoretician with the publication of his book 
Command of the Air in 1921. Douhet declared, "The disintegration 
of nations [which] in the last war was brought about by [attrition] 
will be accomplished directly by . . . aerial forces." 

Prior to World War II, psychologists and military theoreticians 
such as Douhet predicted that mass bombing of cities would create 
the same degree of psychological trauma seen on the battlefield in 
World War I. During World War I the probability of a soldier 
becoming a psychiatric casualty was greater than that of his being 
killed by enemy fire. As a result of this, authorities envisioned vast 
numbers of "gibbering lunatics" being driven from their cities by 
a rain of bombs. Among civilians the impact was projected to be 
even worse than that seen in combat. When the horror of war 
touched women, children, and the elderly, rather than trained and 
carefully selected soldiers, the psychological impact was sure to be 
too great, and even more civilians than soldiers were expected 
to snap. 

This body of theory, established by Douhet and later echoed 
by many other authorities, played a key role in establishing the 
theoretical foundation for the German attempt to bomb Britain 
into submission at the beginning of World War II and the subse- 
quent Allied attempt to do the same to Germany. This strategic 
bombing of population centers was motivated by quite reasonable 
expectations of mass psychiatric casualties resulting from the strate- 
gic bombing of civilian populations. 

But they were wrong. 

The carnage and destruction, and the fear of death and injury 
caused by the months of continuous blitz in England during World 
War II were as bad as anything faced by any frontline soldier. 
Relatives and friends were mutilated and killed, but in a strange 
sort of way, that was not the worst of it. These civilians suffered 

56 Killing and Combat Trauma 

one indignity that most soldiers need never face. In 1942, Lord 
Cherwell wrote: "Investigation seems to show that having 
one's house demolished is most damaging to morale. People seem 
to mind it more than having their friends or even relatives 

For the Germans it was worse. The might of the vast British 
Empire was brought to bear on the German population via Britain's 
nighttime area bombing. At the same time, the United States 
devoted its efforts to "precision" daylight bombing. Day and night 
for months, even years, the German people suffered horribly. 

During the months of firebombings and carpet bombings the 
German population experienced the distilled essence of the death 
and injury suffered in combat. They endured fear and horror on 
a magnitude such as few will ever live to see. This Reign of Fear 
and horror unleashed among civilians is exactly what most experts 
hold responsible for the tremendous percentages of psychiatric 
casualties suffered by soldiers in battle. 

And yet, incredibly, the incidence of psychiatric casualties among 
these individuals was very similar to that of peacetime. There were 
no incidents of mass psychiatric casualties. The Rand Corporation 
study of the psychological impact of air raids, published in 1949, 
found that there was only a very slight increase in the "more or 
less long-term" psychological disorders as compared with peace- 
time rates. And those that did appear seemed to "occur primarily 
among already predisposed persons." Indeed, bombing seemed to 
have served primarily to harden the hearts and empower the killing 
ability of those who endured it. 

When faced with the failure of their predictions, postwar psy- 
chologists and psychiatrists scrambled to find a reason for the 
obstinate failure of the populations of Germany and England to 
become mass psychiatric casualties in response to strategic bombing. 
They finally used the theory of gain through illness as a model to 
explain what had occurred. This held that these individuals failed to 
become "ill" because they simply had nothing to gain by doing so. 

The theory of gain through illness, however, fails for two reasons: 
soldiers in combat will become psychiatric casualties even when 

The Reign of Fear 57 

they have nothing to gain by doing so — such is the nature of 
insanity — and second, these individuals did have much to gain 
by "letting slip the bonds of reality" and escaping into the country- 
side, or better yet escaping to the psychiatric clinics that were 
usually located far from the targets of strategic bombing. 

Fear and Prisoners of War as Artillery and Bombing Victims 

Gabriel notes that studies from both the First and Second World 
Wars show that prisoners of war did not suffer psychiatric reactions 
when they were subjected to artillery attack or aerial bombardment, 
but their guards did. Here we see a situation in which noncombatants 
(prisoners) were not traumatized by death and destruction, while 
the combatants (guards) with them were. The theory of gain 
through illness has been applied to explain this disparity; that 
is, the guards could gain by becoming psychiatric casualties and 
departing to the nearest psychiatric clearing station, while the 
prisoners had nothing to gain and nowhere to go, so they elected 
not to become psychiatric casualties. But this theory does not bear 
up under careful scrutiny. 

Soldiers who are surrounded and without cover will flee from 
battle, even when they have nothing to gain by doing so. An 
excellent example of this can be seen in one of Custer's cavalry 
units, which was cut off and surrounded by the Indians for two 
days before being rescued. (Yes, some of Custer's 7th Cavalry, at 
a different location under the command of Major Reno, did survive 
the Litde Big Horn. Only the ones with Custer were all killed.) 
According to Gabriel many of these soldiers, pretending to be ill 
or wounded, left their defensive positions for the medical station, 
even though it offered no protection. Indeed, the medical station was 
exposed to hostile fire and was very possibly less safe than positions 
on the perimeter. This example makes an important point about 
gain through illness: combatants will try to get out of the battle 
(a situation where they are required to kill) even when it puts them 
at risk. 

Gabriel discards the gain-through-illness explanation in the case 
of prisoners of war (POWs) and guards receiving artillery fire 

58 Killing and Combat Trauma 

or bombardment. He comes much closer to a more plausible 
explanation when he states that the prisoners "had shifted responsi- 
bility for their survival to the guards." The prisoners had indeed 
relinquished responsibility to their guards: responsibility for survival 
and responsibility for killing. 

The prisoners were unarmed, impotent, and strangely at peace 
with their lot in life. They had no personal capacity or responsibility 
to kill, and they had no reason to believe that the incoming artillery 
or bombs were a personal matter. The guards, on the other hand, 
took the matter as a personal affront. They still had a capacity and 
a responsibility to fight, and they were faced with the irrefutable 
evidence that someone was intent on killing them and that they 
had a responsibility to do likewise. The psychiatric casualties among 
the guards — as among most other soldiers in the same circum- 
stances — represented an accepted method of escape from the 
unbearable responsibility inherent in their roles as soldiers. 

Fear and Sailors in Naval Combat 

For thousands of years naval battles involved missile combat (bow 
and arrows, ballista, cannons, and so on) at extremely close range, 
followed by grappling, boarding, and vicious life-or-death, close- 
in battle with no way to escape. The history of such naval war- 
fare — like that of ground combat — provides many examples of 
psychiatric casualties resulting from this kind of combat. In its 
emotional demands naval warfare was very much like its land- 
based equivalent. 

But in the twentieth century, psychiatric casualties during naval 
warfare have been nearly nonexistent. The great military physician 
Lord Moran noted the remarkable absence of psychological illness 
among the men he ministered to aboard ships in World War II. 
Discussing his experience in two ships, he said, "One was sunk 
after surviving more than two hundred raids and the whole of the 
first Libyan campaign. The other was in four major actions in 
addition to many raids at sea and in harbour, and twice sustained 
actual damage." Yet the incidence of psychiatric casualties was 
almost nonexistent. "There were more than five hundred men in 
the two ships and of these only two came to me about their nerves." 

The Reign of Fear 59 

After World War II the fields of psychiatry and psychology 
attempted to find out why, and again they suggested gain through 
illness. The sailor obviously had nothing to gain by becoming a 
psychiatric casualty and therefore did not elect to do so. 

The idea that modern sailors had nothing to gain through be- 
coming a psychiatric casualty is simply absurd. The sick bay of a 
warship is traditionally placed in the safest and most secure heart 
of the ship. A sailor standing in the open, firing a deck gun at an 
attacking aircraft, has much to gain by making for the relative safety 
of sick bay. And even if his psychiatric symptoms can't get him 
completely away from this batde, they can most assuredly get him 
away from future ones. 

So why don't these sailors suffer from the same psychi- 
atric ailments that their brothers on land do? Modern sailors suffer 
and burn and die just as horribly as their land-bound equivalents. 
Death and destruction fall all about them. Yet they do not crack. 

The answer is that most of them don't have to kill anyone 
direcdy, and no one is trying to specifically, personally, kill them. 

Dyer observes that there has never been a similar resistance to 
killing among artillerymen or bomber crews or naval personnel. 
"Partly," he says, this is due to "the same pressure that keeps 
machine-gun crews firing, but even more important is the inter- 
vention of distance and machinery between them and the enemy." 
They can simply "pretend they are not killing human beings." 

Instead of killing people up close and personal, modern navies 
kill ships and airplanes. Of course there are people in these ships 
and airplanes, but psychological and mechanical distances protect 
the modern sailor. World War I and World War II ships often 
fired their weapons at enemy ships that could not be seen with 
the naked eye, and the aircraft they fired at were seldom more than 
specks in the sky. Intellectually these naval warriors understood that 
they were killing humans just like themselves and that someone 
wanted to kill them, but emotionally they could deny it. 

A similar phenomenon has occurred in aerial combat. As pre- 
viously noted, World War I and World War II pilots, in relatively 
slow-moving aircraft, could see enemy pilots, and thus large 

60 Killing and Combat Trauma 

numbers of them failed to fight aggressively. Desert Storm pi- 
lots, fighting an enemy seen only on a radar scope, had no 
such problems. 

Fear and Patrols Behind Enemy Lines 

Another circumstance that is free of the usual psychiatric casualties 
associated with the battlefield involves patrols behind enemy lines. 
Although highly dangerous, such patrols are by their very nature 
a different kind of combat, and in wars throughout this century 
they have had some common characteristics. 

As an infantry company commander and an army Ranger, I 
have been trained by the U.S. Army to plan and conduct such 
patrols and have done so in training on many occasions. The majority 
of patrols are usually reconnaissance patrols. On a recon patrol a 
small, lightly armed body of men is sent into enemy territory with 
specific orders not to engage the enemy. Their mission is to spy 
on the enemy, and if a recon patrol runs into an enemy force it 
will immediately break contact with the enemy. The essence of a 
recon patrol is not to be found or seen, and there is not enough 
firepower with such a patrol to support any kind of offensive op- 

Thus, although recon patrols are dangerous, and the information 
produced may result in many enemy soldiers being killed, the 
mission itself is a very benign operation. It is an operation com- 
pletely free of any obligation or intention to directly confront or 
kill the enemy. Sometimes there is a requirement to capture a 
prisoner, but even this is a relatively limited engagement with the 
enemy. What could be psychologically less traumatic than being 
ordered to run from enemy aggression? 

If a patrol is not a recon patrol, it is usually on an ambush or 
a raid, in which a select group of men will attack the enemy at a 
planned point. Just as in a recon patrol, a combat patrol will 
immediately break contact with the enemy if it is spotted while 
moving to or from its objective. The killing actions of a raid or 
ambush are focused on one particular spot for one brief period of 
time; at all other times the patrol, which depends on surprise for 
its success, will run from the enemy. 

The Reign of Fear 61 

A raid or ambush patrol is carefully and thoroughly planned and 
rehearsed prior to leaving friendly lines, and the time in which 
killing takes place will be extremely brief, and very much like that 
practiced in rehearsal. The psychologically protective power of (1) 
hitting a precise, known objective and of (2) conducting such 
exact rehearsals and visualizations prior to combat (a form of condi- 
tioning) is tremendous. Thus, by their very nature, such combat 
patrols involve far less random killing and are therefore less condu- 
cive to psychiatric casualties. 

An additional factor to consider here is — as Dyer points out — 
that the extremely rare "natural soldiers" who are most capable 
of killing (those identified by Swank and Marchand as the 2 percent 
predisposed toward aggressive psychopathic tendencies) can be 
found "mostly congregating in the commando-type special forces 
[units]." And it is just such units as these that are usually given 
the mission of conducting combat patrols behind enemy lines. 

Here too gain through illness has been used to explain the 
absence of psychiatric casualties during patrols behind enemy lines, 
and again it is demonstrably wrong. Aside from the fact that men 
in combat go mad regardless of whether or not it will do them 
any good, such soldiers have much to gain by becoming psychiat- 
ric casualties. 

Patrols behind enemy lines are extraordinarily dangerous, and 
only one or two casualties (psychiatric or otherwise) en route can 
result in aborting the mission completely. Even if the mission is 
not aborted, the wounded and incapacitated can be spared much 
of the danger involved in a patrol by remaining at a secure location 
where rucksacks, rations, and equipment are kept under the guard 
of a few men while the mission is completed. Above all else, 
indications of psychiatric stress by a soldier on patrol would ensure 
that the soldier would not go on subsequent missions. 

Soldiers on patrols behind enemy lines — like civilians suffering 
from strategic bombing, prisoners of war receiving artillery or 
bombs, and sailors in modern naval combat — generally do not 
suffer psychiatric stress because, for the most part, the element that 
is most responsible for causing combat stress is not present: they 
are not obligated to engage in face-to-face aggressive activities 

62 Killing and Combat Trauma 

against the enemy. Even though these missions are highly danger- 
ous, danger and the fear of death and injury are quite obviously 
not the predominant cause of psychiatric casualties in battle. 

Fear among Medical Personnel: 
"They Take Not Their Courage from Anger." 

In a vision of the night I saw them, 

In the battles of the night. 
'Mid the roar and the reeling shadows of blood 

They were moving like light . . . 

With scrutiny calm, and with fingers 

Patient as swift 
They bind up the hurts and the pain-writhen 

Bodies uplift . . . 

But they take not their courage from anger 

That blinds the hot being; 
They take not their pity from weakness; 

Tender, yet seeing . . . 

They endure to have eyes of the watcher 

In hell and not swerve 
For an hour from the faith that they follow, 

The light that they serve. 

Man true to man, to his kindness 

That overflows all, 
To his spirit erect in the thunder 

When all his forts fall, — 

This light, in the tiger-mad welter, 

They serve and they save. 
What song shall be worthy to sing them — 

Braver than the brave? 

— Laurence Binyon, World War I veteran 
"The Healers" 

There is a significant body of evidence that indicates that nonkill- 
ing military personnel on the batdefield suffer significantly fewer 

The Reign of Fear 63 

psychiatric casualties than those whose job it is to kill. Medical 
personnel in particular have traditionally been bulwarks of depend- 
ability and stability in combat. 

Lord Moran, writing about his military experiences in Anatomy 
of Courage, is one of many such nonkillers who have recorded that 
they had never experienced the physical symptoms of fear. He 
experienced great emotional trauma and he felt that certifying 
his unit as fit, which was his responsibility, was "like signing the 
death warrant of two hundred men. And I might be wrong." 
He concludes by saying that "even now after twenty years my 
conscience is troubled. . . . Was it right that I should hold such 
men to the trenches and if they were killed were they or I to 
blame?" Yet despite all his experiences, he marvels at his own 
ability to "stick" for so very long while the soldiers around him 
broke beneath the psychological burdens of combat. In Moran's 
case he felt that his lack of psychiatric symptoms during his long 
years of continuous combat in the trenches of World War I was 
because, as a medical officer, looking after the wounded gave him 
something to do. This may be true, but perhaps a large part of 
the answer is that he simply was not obliged to kill. 

The medic takes not his courage from anger. He runs the same 
or greater risks of death and injury, but he, or she, is given over 
on the battlefield not to Thanatos and anger, but to kindness and 
Eros. And when it comes to the psychological well-being of its 
avatar, Thanatos is a far harsher master, and whereas one World 
War I veteran-poet understood the nature of Eros on the batdefield 
and communicated it to us in "The Healers," another understood 
and spoke of the nature of Thanatos on the painful field: 

Efficient, thorough, strong, and brave — his vision is to kill. 
Force is the hearthstone of his might, the pole-star of his will. 
His forges glow malevolent: Their minions never tire 
To deck the goddess of his lust whose twins are blood and fire. 

— Robert Grant, World War I veteran 
"The Superman" 

The psychological distinction between being a killer or a helper 
on the batdefield was clearly made by one remarkable veteran I 

64 Killing and Combat Trauma 

interviewed. He had served as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne 
Division at Bastogne, was a Veterans of Foreign Wars post com- 
mander, and a highly respected member of his community. He 
seemed to be deeply troubled by his killing experiences, and after 
World War II he served in Korea and Vietnam as a medic on a 
U.S. Air Force air-rescue helicopter. His harrowing adventures 
rescuing and giving medical aid to downed pilots, he quite freely 
admitted, was a relief from, and a very powerful personal penance 
for, his relatively brief experience as a killer. 

Here, the one-time killer became the archetypal medic, minis- 
tering to the wounded soldiers and carrying them off on his back. 3 

Fear among Officers 

Very similar to the psychologically protected position of medics 
is the position of officers. Officers direct the killing but very seldom 
participate in it. They are buffered from the guilt of killing by the 
simple fact that they order it, and others carry it out. With the 
possible exception of rare self-defense situations, most officers in 
combat never fire a shot at the enemy. Indeed, it is a generally 
accepted tenet of modern warfare that if an officer is shooting at 
the enemy, he is not doing his job. And even though line-officer 
casualties in most wars are consistently much higher than those of 
their men (in World War I, 27 percent of the British officers who 
served on the western front were killed, compared with 12 percent 
of the men), their psychiatric casualties are usually significantly 
lower (in World War I, the probability of a British officer becoming 
a psychiatric casualty was half that of the men). 

Many observers feel that the lower incidence of psychiatric 
casualties among officers is due to their greater sense of responsibil- 
ity or the fact that they are highly visible, with greater social stigma 
associated with breakdown. Undoubtedly the officer has a greater 
understanding than his men of what is going on and his place and 
importance in it. And officers get more recognition and psychologi- 
cal support from military institutions, such as uniforms, awards, 
and decorations. 

These factors are probably all part of the equation, but the officer 
also has a far smaller burden of individual responsibility for killing 

The Reign of Fear 65 

on the battlefield. The key difference is that he doesn't have to 
do it personally. 

A Fresh Look at the Reign of Fear 

It would appear that, at least in the realm of psychiatric casualty 
causation, fear does not reign supreme on the battlefield. The effect 
of fear should never be underestimated, but it is clearly not the 
only, or even the major, factor responsible for psychiatric casualties 
on the batdefield. 

The deaths, destruction, and fear experienced by those who 
survived months of bombing in England and Germany did not 
produce anywhere near the psychological breakdown suffered by 
soldiers in combat. The Rand Corporation studies outlined earlier 
make it clear that just as the distance involved helped the pilots 
and bombardiers to partially deny that they were personally killing 
thousands of innocent civilians, so too did the circumstances and 
distances involved buffer civilian and POW bombing victims, sail- 
on, and patrols behind enemy lines from the Wind of Hate (which 
we will examine shortly) and permit them to successfully deny 
that anyone was personally trying to kill them. They simply didn't 
take it personally. Indeed, one might think that the civilians' and 
the POWs' inability to fight back would be a source of stress, but 
just the opposite appears to be true: most bomber crews and artillery 
crews would eventually sustain psychiatric casualties, while the 
noncombatants they attacked generally did not. 

During World War II, bomber crews generally had the highest 
casualty rates of any combatants among the Allied forces. In the 
British Bomber Command, out of every one hundred men only 
twenty-four survived. Such figures, faced day after day without 
respite, appear to have been sufficient to result in the tremendous 
psychiatric casualty rates suffered by these crews. This fear was 
intermingled with a comparatively small quantity of horror and 
some burden of responsibility — one Vietnam-era bomber pilot 
claimed it was the killing of civilians, even at a distance, that 
eventually drove him to drink and troubled him the most in 
subsequent years. But fear may have been the predominant psycho- 
logical enemy in this particular circumstance. The point is that 

66 Killing and Combat Trauma 

fear is only one of many factors, and it seldom, if ever, is the sole 
cause of psychiatric casualties. 

The magnitude of the exhaustion and the horror suffered by 
combat veterans and victims of strategic bombing is generally 
comparable. The stress factors that soldiers experienced and bomb- 
ing victims did not were the two-edged responsibility of (1) being 
expected to kill (the irreconcilable balancing of to kill and not to 
kill) and (2) the stress of looking their potential killers in the face 
(the Wind of Hate). 

Chapter Three 

The Weight of Exhaustion 

The first quality of a soldier is constancy in enduring fatigue and 
hardship. Courage is only the second. Poverty, privation and want 
are the school of the good soldier. 

— Napoleon 

Exhaustion as Inoculation in Training 

The impact of true physical exhaustion is impossible to communi- 
cate to those who have not experienced it. I remember sitting in 
the mud in a state of exhaustion, picking up small frogs from the 
surrounding swamp, swallowing them one by one, and rinsing 
them down with water from my canteen. I had not eaten or slept 
for five days. We were beginning week eight of the eight-week 
U.S. Army Ranger school, and my peers and I had endured this 
kind of physical deprivation for seven weeks. At this point swal- 
lowing live frogs seemed a very reasonable course of action. And 
although we were handpicked officers and sergeants in the finest 
possible condition upon beginning the course, by this time most 
of us had lost well over twenty pounds of body tissue. 

Sunken cheeked and hollow eyed, we were in a state of 
total starvation-enhanced exhaustion that caused many of us to 
have repeated hallucinations. These were incredibly vivid dreams 
that we would experience while wide-awake. To those who 

68 Killing and Combat Trauma 

experienced them, these hallucinations (which were usually about 
food) seemed to be real. We carried forty-pound rucksacks over 
the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee and through the swamps 
of Florida on endless tactical operations while constantly being 
assessed on our leadership ability. The mind teetered on the brink 
of madness, and anyone could drop out at any time simply by 
failing to perform or asking to quit. Only pride and determination 
kept us going. For weeks after graduation many of us awoke in 
panic and disorientation in the middle of the night. 

Elite soldiers from all over the world participate in this remark- 
ably effective initiation rite, and fewer than half pass. It is probably 
the only school in the U.S. Army about which there is no stigma 
for having failed. "At least," they say, "you had the guts to try." 
And the graduates of this school — and, to varying degrees, the 
U.S. Navy SEAL and Underwater Demolitions School, the U.S. 
Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and Airborne (paratrooper) 
courses, and U.S. Marine boot camp — are respected by soldiers 
around the world as individuals who can be trusted to maintain 
their cool in stressful situations. 

The point of such remarkable exercises in self-flagellation is to 
introduce the combat leader to an intense degree of stress and 
thereby inoculate him against psychological trauma. United States 
Army lieutenant colonel Bob Harris explained how Ranger school 
had done this for him before going to Vietnam: 

It is worth noting that my experiences as a platoon leader convinced 
me absolutely of the value of Ranger training. While I didn't have 
occasion to use all of the techniques and skills I was taught, I did 
use many. More important was the knowledge I had gained of myself 
in Fort Benning, and in the north Georgia mountains and in the 
Florida swamps; the understanding that limits are mosdy in the 
mind and can be overcome; the knowledge that I could keep going 
and be an effective leader in spite of fear, fatigue, and hunger. 

Exhaustion in Combat 

Even as we consider the sunken-eyed, frog-eating, emaciated, and 
exhausted soldier of Ranger school, we must understand that the 

The Weight of Exhaustion 69 

combat exhaustion associated with months of continuous combat is 
something even worse, something that few soldiers have experi- 
enced outside of World War I, World War II, Korea, and some 
circumstances in Vietnam. Douglas MacArthur said of the soldier 
that "he plods and groans, sweats and toils, he growls and curses, 
and at the end he dies." The American soldier-cartoonist Bill 
Mauldin understood the mind-numbing fatigue of World War II 
combat and communicated it in his famous Willie and Joe cartoons. 
"There are millions," wrote Mauldin, "who have done a great 
and hard job, but there are only a few hundred thousand who 
have lived through misery, suffering and death for endless 168- 
hour weeks." 

Psychologist F. C. Bardett emphasized the psychological impact 
of physical exhaustion in combat. "In war," he wrote, "there is 
perhaps no general condition which is more likely to produce a 
large crop of nervous and mental disorders than a state of prolonged 
and great fatigue." The four factors of (1) physiological arousal 
caused by the stress of existing in what is commonly understood 
as a continual fight-or-flight-arousal condition, (2) cumulative loss 
of sleep, (3) the reduction in caloric intake, and (4) the toll of the 
elements — such as rain, cold, heat, and dark of night — assaulting 
the soldier all combine to form the "state of prolonged and great 
fatigue" that is the Weight of Exhaustion. Let us briefly review 
these factors. 

Physiological Exhaustion 

And then a shell lands behind us, and another over to the side, 
and by this time we're scurrying and the sarge and I and another 
guy wind up behind a wall. The sergeant said it was an .88 and 

then he said, "S and s some more." 

I asked him if he was hit and he sort of smiled and said no, he 
had just pissed his pants. He always pissed them, he said, just when 
things started and then he was okay. He wasn't making any apologies 
either, and then I realized something wasn't quite right with me, 
either. There was something warm down there and it seemed to 
be running down my leg. I felt, and it wasn't blood. It was piss. 

70 Killing and Combat Trauma 

I told the sarge, I said, "Sarge, I've pissed too," or something 
like that and he grinned and said, "Welcome to the war." 

— World War II veteran 

quoted in Barry Broadfoot, Six Year War, 1939-1945 

To understand the intensity of the body's physiological response 
to the stress of combat we must understand the mobilization of 
resources caused by the body's sympathetic nervous system, and 
then we must understand the impact of the body's parasympathetic 
backlash response. 

The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes and directs the body's 
energy resources for action. The parasympathetic system is respon- 
sible for the body's digestive and recuperative processes. 

Usually these two systems sustain a general balance between 
their demands upon the body's resources, but during extremely 
stressful circumstances the fight-or-flight response kicks in and 
the sympathetic nervous system mobilizes all available energy for 
survival. In combat this very often results in nonessential activities 
such as digestion, bladder control, and sphincter control being 
completely shut down. This process is so intense that soldiers very 
often suffer stress diarrhea, and it is not at all uncommon for them 
to urinate and defecate in their pants as the body literally "blows 
its ballast" in an attempt to provide all the energy resources required 
to ensure its survival. 

A soldier must pay a physiological price for an energizing process 
this intense. The price that the body pays is an equally powerful 
backlash when the neglected demands of the parasympathetic sys- 
tem return. This parasympathetic backlash occurs as soon as the 
danger and the excitement is over, and it takes the form of an 
incredibly powerful weariness and sleepiness on the part of the 

Napoleon stated that the moment of greatest danger was the 
instant immediately after victory, and in saying so he demonstrated 
a remarkable understanding of how soldiers become physiologically 
and psychologically incapacitated by the parasympathetic backlash 
that occurs as soon as the momentum of the attack has halted and 
the soldier briefly believes himself to be safe. During this period 
of vulnerability a counterattack by fresh troops can have an effect 

The Weight of Exhaustion 71 

completely out of proportion to the number of troops attacking. 

It is basically for this reason that the maintenance of fresh reserves 
has always been essential in combat, with battles often revolving 
around which side can hold out and deploy their reserves last. 
Clausewitz cautioned that these reserves should always be main- 
tained out of sight of the battle. These same basic psychophysiologi- 
cal principles explain why successful military leaden have histori- 
cally maintained the momentum of a successful attack. Pursuing 
and maintaining contact with a defeated enemy are vital in order 
to completely destroy the enemy (the vast majority of the killing 
in historical battles occurred during the pursuit when the enemy 
had turned his back), but it is also valuable to maintain contact 
with the enemy as long as possible in order to delay that inevitable 
pause in the batde that will result in the culmination point during 
which pursuing forces will slip into parasympathetic backlash and 
become vulnerable to a counterattack. Again, an unblown reserve 
ready to complete this pursuit is of great value in ensuring that 
this most destructive phase of the battle is effectively executed. 

In continuous combat the soldier roller-coasters through seem- 
ingly endless surges of adrenaline and subsequent backlashes, and 
the body's natural, useful, and appropriate response to danger 
ultimately becomes extremely counterproductive. Unable to flee, 
and unable to overcome the clanger through a brief burst of fighting, 
posturing, or submission, the bodies of modern soldiers quickly 
exhaust their capacity to energize and they slide into a state of 
profound physical and emotional exhaustion of such a magnitude 
and dimension that it appears to be almost impossible to communi- 
cate it to those who have not experienced it. A soldier in this 
state will inevitably collapse from nervous exhaustion — the body 
simply will burn out. 

Lack of Sleep 

I have already mentioned the hallucinations and zombielike states 
commonly experienced due to lack of sleep in intensive training, 
such as in the U.S. Army Ranger school. In combat it is often far 
worse. Holmes's research indicates that tremendous periods of 
sleep loss are the norm in combat. In one study it was determined 
that of American soldiers in Italy in 1944, 31 percent averaged 

72 Killing and Combat Trauma 

fewer than four hours' sleep a night, and another 54 percent 
averaged fewer than six. Those individuals with the lower amounts 
of sleep were most likely to have come from the frontline units, 
which is also where the highest incidence of psychological casualties 

Lack of Food 

Lack of nourishment resulting from bad, cold food, and a loss of 
appetite caused by fatigue, can have a singularly devastating impact 
on combat effectiveness. "I would say without hesitation," wrote 
the British general Bernard Fergusson, "that lack of food constitutes 
the single biggest assault upon morale. . . . Apart from its purely 
chemical effects upon the body, it has woeful effects upon the 

In numerous historical incidents lack of food was believed to 
have been the single most important military factor. The Army 
Historical Series volume on logistics affirms that "lack of food 
probably more than any other factor forced the end of resistance 
on Bataan" early in World War II, and the Germans at Stalingrad 
were "literally starving at the time of their capitulation." 

Impact of the Elements 

Soldiering, by its very nature, involves facing the forces of nature 
as well as the forces of the foe. Limited to those few amenities 
that they can carry on their backs after room has been made for 
the equipment of their profession, most soldiers are more or less 
at the mercy of the elements. Thus endless cold, rain, heat, and 
suffering become the soldier's lot. 

Lord Moran believed that "armies wilt when exposed to the 
elements." For him the worst was "the harsh violence of winter," 
which can "find a flaw even in picked men." And the constant 
torment of the rain led Henri Barbusse to write that "dampness 
rusts men like rifles, more slowly but more deeply." 

Another potential enemy of the soldier is the sensory deprivation 
of darkness, which can conspire with the cold and the rain to 
produce a degree of misery such as the protected shall never 
know. For Simon Murry, a French veteran of Algeria, coldness 
was "enemy number one." For him, "the misery of crawling into 

The Weight of Exhaustion 73 

a sleeping-bag which is wet and sodden in total blackness on top 
of a mountain with the rain pissing down" was misery "with- 
out parallel." 

Heat, too, can exhaust and kill; and rats, lice, mosquitoes, and 
other living elements of nature take their turns at exacting both 
a physical and a psychological toll upon the soldier, but the most 
deadly of all these natural enemies that the soldier must face is 
probably disease. In every American war up until World War II 
more soldiers died from disease than from enemy action. 

And so we see that lack of sleep, lack of food, the impact of the 
elements, and emotional exhaustion caused by constant fight-or- 
flight-response activation all conspire to contribute to the soldier's 
exhaustion. This is a burden that, if not capable of causing psychiat- 
ric casualties in and of itself, needs to be taken into consideration 
as being capable of predisposing the soldier's psyche toward seeking 
escape from the deprivations that surround him. 

Chapter Four 

The Mud of Guilt and Horror 

I am sick and tired of war. It's glory is all moonshine. It is only 
those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and 
groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, 
for desolation. War is hell. 

— William Tecumseh Sherman 

The Impact of the Senses 

Beyond fear and exhaustion is a sea of horror that surrounds the 
soldier and assails his every sense. 

Hear the pitiful screams of the wounded and dying. Smell the 
butcher-house smells of feces, blood, burned flesh, and rotting 
decay, which combine into the awful stench of death. Feel the 
shudder of the ground as the very earth groans at the abuse of 
artillery and explosives, and feel the last shiver of life and the flow 
of warm blood as friends die in your arms. Taste the salt of blood 
and tears as you hold a dear friend in mutual grieving, and you 
do not know or care if it is the salt of your tears or his. And see 
what hath been wrought: 

You tripped over strings of viscera fifteen feet long, over bodies 
which had been cut in half at the waist. Legs and arms, and heads 

The Mud of Guilt and Horror 75 

bearing only necks, lay fifty feet from the closest torsos. As night 
fell the beachhead reeked with the stench of burning flesh. 

— William Manchester, 
Goodbye, Darkness 

The Impact of Memory and the Role of Guilt 

Strangely, such horrifying memories seem to have a much more 
profound effect on the combatant — the participant in battle — 
than the noncombatant, the correspondent, civilian, POW, or 
other passive observer of the battle zone. The combat soldier 
appears to feel a deep sense of responsibility and accountability for 
what he sees around him. It is as though every enemy dead is a 
human being he has killed, and every friendly dead is a comrade 
for whom he was responsible. With every effort to reconcile these 
two responsibilities, more guilt is added to the horror that surrounds 
the soldier. 

Richard Holmes speaks of "a brave and distinguished" old vet- 
eran who, after nearly seventy years, "wept softly ... as he de- 
scribed a popular officer who had been literally disemboweled by 
a shell fragment." Often you can keep these things out of your 
mind when you are young and active, but they come back to 
haunt your nights in your old age. "We thought we had managed 
all right," he told Holmes, "kept the awful things out of our 
minds, but now I'm an old man and they come out from where 
I hid them. Every night." 

And yet, all of this, this horror, is just one of the many factors 
among those that conspire to drive the soldier from the painful field. 

Chapter Five 
The Wind of Hate 

Hate and Trauma in Our Daily Lives 

When we consider the matter, are we truly surprised to discover 
that it is not danger that causes psychiatric stress? And is the existence 
of an intense resistance to participating in aggressive situations 
really so unexpected? 

To a large extent our society — particularly our young men — 
actively and vicariously pursues physical danger. Through roller 
coasters, action and horror movies, drugs, rock climbing, white- 
water rafting, scuba diving, parachuting, hunting, contact sports, 
and a hundred other methods, our society enjoys danger. To be 
sure, danger in excess grows old fast, particularly when we feel 
that we have lost control of it. And the potential for death and 
injury is an important ingredient in the complex mixture that 
makes combat so stressful, but it is not the major cause of stress in 
either our daily lives or in combat. 

But facing aggression and hatred in our fellow citizens is an 
experience of an entirely different magnitude. All of us have had 
to face hostile aggression. On the playground as children, in the 
impoliteness of strangers, in the malicious gossip and comments 
of acquaintances, and in the animosity of peers and superiors in 
the workplace. In all of these instances everyone has known hostil- 

The Wind of Hate 77 

ity and the stress it can cause. Most avoid confrontations at all 
costs, and to work ourselves up to an aggressive verbal action — let 
alone a physical confrontation — is extremely difficult. 

Simply confronting the boss about a promotion or a raise is one 
of the most stressful and upsetting things most people can ever 
bring themselves to do, and many never even get that far. Facing 
down the school bully or confronting a hostile acquaintance is 
something that most will avoid at all costs. Many medical authorities 
believe that it is the constant hostility and lack of acceptance that 
they must face — and the resulting stress — that are responsible 
for the dramatic rate of high blood pressure in African Americans. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 
III-R), the bible of psychology, states that in post-traumatic stress 
disorders "the disorder is apparendy more severe and longer lasting 
when the stressor is of human design." We want desperately to 
be liked, loved, and in control of our lives; and intentional, overt, 
human hostility and aggression — more than anything else in life — 
assaults our self-image, our sense of control, our sense of the world 
as a meaningful and comprehensible place, and, ultimately, our 
mental and physical health. 

The ultimate fear and horror in most modern lives is to be raped 
or beaten, to be physically degraded in front of our loved ones, 
to have our family harmed and the sanctity of our homes invaded by 
aggressive and hateful intruders. Death and debilitation by disease or 
accident are statistically far more likely to occur than death and 
debilitation by malicious action, but the statistics do not calm our 
basically irrational fears. It is not fear of death and injury from 
disease or accident but rather acts of personal depredation and 
domination by our fellow human beings that strike terror and 
loathing in our hearts. 

In rape the psychological harm usually far exceeds the physical 
injury. The trauma of rape, like that of combat, involves minimal 
fear of death or injury; far more damaging is the impotence, shock, 
and horror in being so hated and despised as to be debased and 
abused by a fellow human being. 

The average citizen resists engaging in aggressive and assertive 
activities and dreads facing the irrational aggression and hatred of 

78 Killing and Combat Trauma 

others. The soldier in combat is no different: he resists the powerful 
obligation and coercion to engage in aggressive and assertive actions 
on the battlefield, and he dreads facing the irrational aggression 
and hostility embodied in the enemy. 

Indeed, history is full of tales of soldiers who have committed 
suicide or inflicted terrible wounds upon themselves to avoid com- 
bat. It isn't fear of death that motivates these men to kill themselves. 
Like many of their civilian counterparts who commit suicide, 
these men would rather die or mutilate themselves than face the 
aggression and hostility of a very hostile world. 

The Impact of Hate in Nazi Death Camps 

An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior. 
— Victor Frankl, Nazi concentration-camp survivor 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of the power of the buffeting of 
hate can be obtained from a study of survivors of Nazi concentra- 
tion camps. Even the briefest review of available literature reveals 
that these individuals did suffer from great, lifelong, psychological 
damage as a result of their experiences in concentration camps, 
even though they did not have any obligation or ability to kill 
their tormentors. 4 Among bombing victims, POWs under artillery 
fire, sailors in naval combat, and soldiers on patrols behind enemy 
fines we do not find any large-scale incidence of psychiatric casual- 
ties, but in such places as Dachau and Auschwitz they were the 
rule rather than the exception. 

This is one historical circumstance in which noncombatants did 
suffer a horrifyingly high incidence of psychiatric casualties and 
post-traumatic stress. Physical exhaustion is not the only or even 
the primary factor involved here. And neither is the horror of the 
death and destruction around them principally responsible for the 
psychic shock of this situation. The distinguishing characteristic 
here, as opposed to numerous other noncombatant circumstances 
marked by an absence of psychiatric casualties, is that those in 
concentration camps had to face aggression and death on a highly 
personal, face-to-face basis. Nazi Germany placed a remarkable 
concentration of aggressive psychopaths in charge of these camps, 

The Wind of Hate 79 

and the lives of victims of these camps were completely dominated 
by the personalities of these terrifyingly brutal individuals. 

Dyer tells us that concentration camps were staffed, whenever 
possible, with "both male and female thugs and sadists." Unlike 
the victims of aerial bombing, the victims of these camps had to 
look their sadistic killers in the face and know that another human 
being denied their humanity and hated them enough to personally 
slaughter them, their families, and their race as though they were 
nothing more than animals. 

During strategic bombing the pilots and bombardiers were pro- 
tected by distance and could deny to themselves that they were 
attempting to kill any specific individual. In the same way, civilian 
bombing victims were protected by distance, and they could deny 
that anyone was personally trying to kill them. And among the 
POWs who were subject to bombing (as we saw earlier) the bombs 
were not personal, and the guards were no threat to the POWs 
as long as they played by the rules. But in the death camps it was 
starkly, horribly personal. Victims of this horror had to look the 
darkest, most loathsome depths of human hatred in the eye. There 
was no room for denial, and the only escape was more madness. 

It is here, in this sordid account of man's inhumanity to man, 
that we see the flip side of the aversion to killing in combat. 
Not only does the average soldier's psyche resist killing and the 
obligation to kill, but he is equally horrified by the inescapable 
fact that someone hates him and denies his humanity enough to 
kill him. 

The soldier's response to the overtly hostile actions of the enemy 
is usually one of profound shock, surprise, and outrage. Countless 
veterans echo novelist and Vietnam veteran Phillip Caputo's first 
reaction to enemy fire in Vietnam. "Why does he want to kill 
me?" thought Caputo. "What did I ever do to him?" 

One Vietnam-era pilot told me that he was largely undisturbed 
by the impersonal flak around him, but he was memorably dis- 
turbed when he once focused on one lone enemy soldier "standing 
casually next to his hooch [hut], carefully firing up at me." It 
was one of the rare times he had ever been able to distinguish 
an individual enemy soldier, and his immediate response was an 

80 Killing and Combat Trauma 

indignant "What did I ever do to him?" Then came a hurt and 
angry "I do not like you Sam I Am, I do not like you one damned 
bit." And he then directed all the resources and assets of his aircraft 
to kill this one individual and "blow up his little hooch." 

An Application: Attrition Versus Maneuver Warfare 

In the field of strategy and tactics the impact and influence of the 
Wind of Hate have been widely overlooked. Numerous tacticians 
and strategists advocate attrition warfare theories, in which the 
will of enemy forces is destroyed through the application of long- 
range artillery and bombing. The advocates of such theories persist 
in such beliefs even in the face of evidence, such as the post- World 
War II U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, which, in the words of 
Paul Fussell, ascertained that "German military and industrial pro- 
duction seemed to increase — just like civilian determination not 
to surrender — the more bombs were dropped." Psychologically, 
aerial and artillery bombardments are effective, but only in the 
front lines when they are combined with the Wind of Hate, as 
manifested in the threat of the personal infantry attack that usually 
follows such bombardments. 

This is why there were mass psychiatric casualties following 
World War I artillery bombardments, but World War II's mass 
bombings of cities were surprisingly counterproductive in breaking 
the enemy's will. Such bombardments without an accompanying 
close-range assault, or at least the threat of such an assault, are 
ineffective and may even serve no other purpose than to stiffen 
the will and resolve of the enemy! 

Today a few pioneering authors such as William Lind and Rob- 
ert Leonhard have focused their research and writings on the field 
of maneuver warfare, in which they attempt to refute the advocates 
of attrition warfare and understand the process of destroying the 
enemy's will to fight rather than his ability to fight. What maneuver 
warfare advocates have discovered is that over and over in history, 
civilians and soldiers have withstood the actuality of fear, horror, 
death, and destruction during artillery bombardments and aerial 
bombardments without losing their will to fight, while the mere 

The Wind of Hate 81 

threat of invasion and close-up interpersonal aggression has consis- 
tently turned whole populations into refugees fleeing in panic. 

This is why putting unfriendly troop units in the enemy's rear 
is infinitely more important and effective than even the most 
comprehensive bombardments in his rear or attrition along his 
front. We saw this in the Korean War, in which, during the early 
years of the war, the rate of psychiatric casualties was almost seven 
times higher than the average rate for World War II. Only after 
the war settled down, lines stabilized, and the threat of having 
enemy in the rear areas decreased, did the average rate go down 
to slighdy less than that of World War II. The potential of close- 
up, inescapable, interpersonal hatred and aggression is more effective 
and has greater impact on the morale of the soldier than the presence 
of inescapable, impersonal death and destruction. 

Hate and Psychological Inoculation 

Martin Seligman developed the concept of inoculation from stress 
from his famous studies of learning in dogs. He put dogs in a cage 
that had an electric shock pass through the floor at random intervals. 
Initially the dogs would jump, yelp, and scratch pitifully in their 
attempts to escape the shocks, but after a time they would fall into 
a depressed, hopeless state of apathy and inactivity that Seligman 
termed "learned helplessness." After falling into a state of learned 
helplessness the dogs would not avoid the shocks even when 
provided with an obvious escape route. 

Other dogs were given a means of escape after receiving some 
shocks but before falling into learned helplessness. These dogs 
learned that they could and would eventually escape from the 
shocks, and after only one such escape they became inoculated 
against learned helplessness. Even after long periods of random, 
inescapable shocks these inoculated dogs would escape when finally 
provided with a means to do so. 

This is all a very interesting theoretical concept, but what is 
important to us is to understand that this process of inoculation 
is exactly what occurs in boot camps and in every other military 
school worthy of its name. When raw recruits are faced with seemingly 

82 Killing and Combat Trauma 

sadistic abuse and hardship (which they "escape" through weekend 
passes and, ultimately, graduation) they are — among many other 
things — being inoculated against the stresses of combat. 

Combining an understanding of (a) those factors that cause 
combat trauma with (b) an understanding of the inoculation process 
permits us to understand that in most of these military schools the 
inoculation is specifically oriented toward hate. 

The drill sergeant who screams into the face of a recruit is 
manifesting overt interpersonal hostility. Another effective means 
of inoculating a trainee against the Wind of Hate can be seen in 
U.S. Army and USMC pugil-stick training during boot camp or 
at the U.S. Military Academy and the British Airborne Brigade, 
where boxing matches are a traditional part of the training and 
initiation process. When in the face of all of this manufactured 
contempt and overt physical hostility the recruit overcomes the 
situation to graduate with honor and pride, he realizes at both 
conscious and unconscious levels that he can overcome such overt 
interpersonal hostility. He has become partially inoculated against hate. 

I do not believe that military organizations have truly understood 
the nature of the Wind of Hate, or of the resultant need for this 
kind of inoculation. It is only since Seligman's research that we 
have really had the foundation for a clinical understanding of these 
processes. However, through thousands of years of institutional 
memory and the harshest kind of survival-of-the-fittest evolution, 
this kind of inoculation has manifested itself in the traditions of 
the finest and most aggressive fighting units of many nations. By 
understanding the role of hate on the battlefield, we now can 
finally and truly understand the military value of what armies have 
done for so long and some of the processes by which they have 
enabled the soldier to physically and psychically survive on the 

Chapter Six 

The Well of Fortitude 

Stay with me, God. The night is dark. 
The night is cold: my little spark 
of courage dies. The night is long; 
be with me, God, and make me strong. 

— Junius, Vietnam veteran 

Many authorities speak and write of emotional stamina on the 
battlefield as a finite resource. I have termed this the Well of Forti- 
tude. Faced with the soldier's encounters with horror, guilt, fear, 
exhaustion, and hate, each man draws steadily from his own private 
reservoir of inner strength and fortitude until finally the well runs 
dry. And then he becomes just another statistic. I believe that this 
metaphor of the well is an excellent one for understanding why 
at least 98 percent of all soldiers in close combat will ultimately 
become psychiatric casualties. 

Fortitude and Individuals 

George Keenan tells us that "heroism, the Caucasian mountaineers 
say, is endurance for one moment more." In the trenches of World 
War I Lord Moran learned that courage "is not a chance gift of 
nature like aptitude ... it is willpower that can be spent — and 
when it is used up — men are finished. 'Natural courage' does 

84 Killing and Combat Trauma 

exist; but it is really fearlessness ... as opposed to the courage 
of control." 

In sustained combat this process of emotional bankruptcy is seen 
in 98 percent of all soldiers who survive physically. Lord Moran 
presented the case of Sergeant Taylor, who "was wounded and 
came back unchanged; he seemed proof against the accidents of 
his life, he stood in the Company like a rock; men were swept 
up to him and eddied round him for a little time and ebbed away 
again, but he remained." He finally suffered a near miss from an 
artillery shell. When Sergeant Taylor went to the well he found 
it to be empty, and this indomitable rock shattered: completely 
and catastrophically. 

Fortitude and Depression 

Holmes has gathered a list of the symptoms of men suffering from 
combat exhaustion. For these individuals the demands of combat 
have caused too great a drain on their own personal stocks of 
fortitude, resulting in conditions such as 

a general slowing down of mental processes and apathy, as far as 
they were concerned the situation was one of absolute hopeless- 
ness. . . . The influence and reassurance of understanding officers 
and NCOs failed to arouse these soldiers from their hopeless- 
ness. . . . The soldier was slow-witted. . . . Memory defects became 
so extreme that he could not be counted on to relay a verbal 
order. . . . He could then best be described as one leading a vegeta- 
tive existence. . . . He remained almost constantly in or near his slit 
trench, and during acute actions took no part, trembling constandy. 

This is a vivid description of severe depression. Exhaustion, mem- 
ory defects, apathy, hopelessness, and all the rest of these are precise 
descriptions of clinical depression that can be taken straight from 
the DSM-III-R. This is why "fortitude," rather than "courage," 
is the proper word to describe what is occurring here. It is not 
just a reaction to fear, but rather a reaction to a host of stressors 
that suck the will and life out of a man and leave him clinically 
depressed. The opposite of courage is cowardice, but the opposite 
of fortitude is exhaustion. When the soldier's well is dry, his very 

The Well of Fortitude 85 

soul is dry, and, in Lord Moran's words, "he had gazed upon the 
face of death too long until exhaustion had dried him up making 
him so much tinder, which a chance spark of fear might set alight." 

Fortitude from Other Men's Wells, and Replenishment 
Through Victory 

A brave captain is as a root, out of which, as branches, the courage 
of his soldiers doth spring. 

— Sir Philip Sidney 

One key characteristic of a great military leader is an ability to 
draw from the tremendous depths of fortitude within his own 
well, and in doing so he is fortifying his own men by permitting 
them to draw from his well. Many writers have recorded this 
process as being at work in the combat situations they observed. 
Lord Moran noted that "a few men had the stuff of leadership in 
them, they were like rafts to which all the rest of humanity clung 
for support and hope." 

Victory and success in battle also replenish individual and collec- 
tive wells. Moran tells us that if a soldier is always using up his 
capital he may from time to time add to it. "There is," says Moran, 
"a paying in as well as a paying out." He gives as an example 
General Alexander, who took command of the British forces in 
North Africa in World War II. When Alexander took command, 
the men often did not bother to salute an officer, but after their 
victory of El Alamein all that came to an end, and their self-respect 
came back. Moran concluded that "achievement is a sharp tonic 
to morale. . . . But in the main, time is against the soldier." 

Fortitude and Units 

Depletion of the finite resource of fortitude can be seen in entire 
units as well as individuals. The fortitude of a unit is no more than 
the aggregate of the fortitude of its members. And when the 
individuals are drained to a dry husk, the whole is nothing more 
than an aggregate of exhausted men. 

In Normandy during World War II Field Marshal Montgomery 
had two classes of divisions. Some were veterans of North Africa, 

86 Killing and Combat Trauma 

and others were green units, without previous combat experience. 
Montgomery initially tended to rely on his veteran units (particu- 
larly during the disastrous Operation Goodwood), but these units 
performed poorly, while his green units performed well. In this 
instance, failing to understand the influence of emotional exhaus- 
tion and the Well of Fortitude had a significant negative impact 
on the Allied effort in World War II. 

In the same way, all of the aspects of combat trauma impact 
profoundly upon the individual's contribution to the battlefield 
and upon the contribution of that aggregate of individuals that we 
call military units. If we understand these concepts we begin to 
master the full spectrum of the responses of men in combat. If we 
ignore them we do so to the detriment of the individual, and to 
the detriment of that aggregate of individuals that we call our 
society, our nation, our way of life, and our world. Lord Moran 
concluded that such ignorance of the ultimate cost of depleting 
the Well of Fortitude of England's youth in World War I caused 
that nation "to dissipate like a spend thrift not only the lives but 
the moral heritage of the youth of England." 

Chapter Seven 

The Burden of Killing 

Alfred de Vigny went to the heart of the military experience when 
he observed that the soldier is both victim and executioner. Not 
only does he run the risk of being killed and wounded himself, 
but he also kills and wounds others. 

— John Keegan and Richard Holmes 

The resistance to the close-range killing of one's own species is 
so great that it is often sufficient to overcome the cumulative in- 
fluences of the instinct for self-protection, the coercive forces of 
leadership, the expectancy of peers, and the obligation to preserve 
the fives of comrades. 

The soldier in combat is trapped within this tragic Catch-22. 
If he overcomes his resistance to killing and kills an enemy soldier 
in close combat, he will be forever burdened with blood guilt, 
and if he elects not to kill, then the blood guilt of his fallen 
comrades and the shame of his profession, nation, and cause fie 
upon him. He is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. 

To Kill, and the Guilt Thereof 

William Manchester, author and U.S. Marine veteran of World 
War II, felt remorse and shame after his close-range personal killing 

88 Killing and Combat Trauma 

of a Japanese soldier. "I can remember," he wrote, "whispering 
foolishly, 'I'm sorry' and then just throwing up ... I threw up all 
over myself. It was a betrayal of what I'd been taught since a 
child." Other combat veterans tell of the emotional responses 
associated with a close-range kill that echo Manchester's horror. 
The media's depiction of violence tries to tell us that men can 
easily throw off the moral inhibitions of a lifetime — and whatever 
other instinctive restraint exists — and kill casually and guiltlessly 
in combat. The men who have killed, and who will talk about it, 
tell a different tale. A few of these quotes, which are drawn from 
Keegan and Holmes, can be found elsewhere in this study, but 
here they represent the distilled essence of the soldier's emotional 
response to killing: 

Killing is the worst thing that one man can do to another man . . . 
it's the last thing that should happen anywhere. 

— Israeli lieutenant 

I reproached myself as a destroyer. An indescribable uneasiness 
came over me, I felt almost like a criminal. 

— Napoleonic-era British soldier 

This was the first time I had killed anybody and when things 
quieted down I went and looked at a German I knew I had shot. 
I remember thinking that he looked old enough to have a family 
and I felt very sorry. 

— British World War I veteran after his first kill 

It didn't hit me all that much then, but when I think of it now — I 
slaughtered those people. I murdered them. 

— German World War II veteran 

And I froze, 'cos it was a boy, I would say between the ages of 
twelve and fourteen. When he turned at me and looked, all of a 
sudden he turned his whole body and pointed his automatic weapon 
at me, I just opened up, fired the whole twenty rounds right at 
the kid, and he just laid there. I dropped my weapon and cried. 

— U.S. Special Forces officer and Vietnam veteran 

The Burden of Killing 89 

I fired again and somehow got him in the head. There was so 
much blood ... I vomited, until the rest of the boys came up. 

— Israeli Six-Day War veteran 

So this new Peugeot comes towards us, and we shoot. And there 
was a family there — three children. And I cried, but I couldn't 
take the chance. . . . Children, father, mother. All the family was 
killed, but we couldn't take the chance. 

— Israeli Lebanon Incursion veteran 

The magnitude of the trauma associated with killing became partic- 
ularly apparent to me in an interview with Paul, a VFW post 
commander and sergeant of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne in 
World War II. He talked freely about his experiences and about 
comrades who had been killed, but when I asked him about his 
own kills he stated that usually you couldn't be sure who it was 
that did the killing. Then tears welled up in Paul's eyes, and after 
a long pause he said, "But the one time I was sure . . ." and then 
his sentence was stopped by a little sob, and pain racked the face 
of this old gentleman. "It still hurts, after all these years?" I asked 
in wonder. "Yes," he said, "after all these years." And he would 
not speak of it again. 

The next day he told me, "You know, Captain, the questions 
you're asking, you must be very careful not to hurt anyone with 
these questions. Not me, you know, I can take it, but some of 
these young guys are still hurting very badly. These guys don't 
need to be hurt anymore." These memories were the scabs of 
terrible, hidden wounds in the minds of these kind and gentle men. 

Not to Kill, and the Guilt Thereof 

With very few exceptions, everyone associated with killing in 
combat reaps a bitter harvest of guilt. 

The Soldier's Guilt . . . 

Numerous studies have concluded that men in combat are usually 
motivated to fight not by ideology or hate or fear, but by group 
pressures and processes involving (1) regard for their comrades, 

90 Killing and Combat Trauma 

(2) respect for their leaders, (3) concern for their own reputation 
with both, and (4) an urge to contribute to the success of the group. 5 
Repeatedly we see combat veterans describe the powerful bonds 
that men forge in combat as stronger than those of husband and 
wife. John Early, a Vietnam veteran and an ex-Rhodesian merce- 
nary, described it to Dyer this way: 

This is going to sound really strange, but there's a love relationship 
that is nurtured in combat because the man next to you — you're 
depending on him for the most important thing you have, your 
life, and if he lets you down you're either maimed or killed. If 
you make a mistake the same thing happens to him, so the bond 
of trust has to be extremely close, and I'd say this bond is stronger 
than almost anything, with the exception of parent and child. It's 
a hell of a lot stronger than man and wife — your life is in his 
hands, you trust that person with the most valuable thing you have. 

This bonding is so intense that it is fear of failing these comrades 
that preoccupies most combatants. Countless sociological and psy- 
chological studies, the personal narratives of numerous veterans, 
and the interviews I have conducted clearly indicate the strength 
of the soldier's concern for failing his buddies. The guilt and trauma 
associated with failing to fully support men who are bonded with 
friendship and camaraderie on this magnitude is profoundly intense. 
Yet every soldier and every leader feels this guilt to one degree 
or another. For those who know that they have not fired while 
their friends died around them, the guilt is traumatic. 

. . . And the Leader's Guilt 

The responsibilities of a combat leader represent a remarkable 
paradox. To be truly good at what he does, he must love his men 
and be bonded to them with powerful links of mutual responsibility 
and affection. And then he must ultimately be willing to give the 
orders that may kill them. 

To a significant degree, the social barrier between officer and 
enlisted man, and between sergeant and private, exists to enable 
the superior to send his men into mortal danger and to shield him 

The Burden of Killing 91 

from the inevitable guilt associated with their deaths. For even the 
best leaders make some mistakes that will weigh forever upon their 
consciences. Just as any good coach can analyze his conduct of 
even a winning game and see where he could have done better, 
so does every good combat leader think, at some level, that if he 
had just done something different these men — these men he 
loved like sons and brothers — might not have died. 

It is extraordinarily difficult to get these leaders to reminisce 
along these lines: 

Now tactically I had done everything the way it was supposed to 
be done, but we lost some soldiers. There was no other way. We 
could not go around that field; we had to go across it. So did I 
make a mistake? I don't know. Would I have done it differently 
[another time]? I don't think I would have, because that's the way 
I was trained. Did we lose less soldiers by my doing it that way? 
That's a question that'll never be answered. 

— Major Robert Ooley, Vietnam veteran 
quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

This is a deadly, dangerous line of thought for leaders, and the 
honors and decorations that are traditionally heaped upon military 
leaders at all levels are vitally important for their mental health 
in the years that follow. These decorations, medals, mentions in 
dispatches, and other forms of recognition represent a powerful 
affirmation from the leader's society, telling him that he did well, 
he did the right thing, and no one blames him for the lives lost 
in doing his duty. 

Denial and the Burden of Killing 

Balancing the obligation to kill with the resulting toll of guilt 
forms a significant cause of psychiatric casualties on the battlefield. 
Philosopher-psychologist Peter Marin speaks of the soldier's lesson 
in responsibility and guilt. What the soldier knows as a result of 
war is that "the dead remain dead, the maimed are forever maimed, 
and there is no way to deny one's responsibility or culpability, for 
those mistakes are written, forever and as if in fire, in others' flesh." 

92 , Killing and Combat Trauma 

Ultimately there may be no way to deny one's responsibility 
or culpability for mistakes written "forever and as if in fire, in 
others' flesh," but combat is a great furnace fed by the small 
flickering flames of attempts at denial. The burden of killing is so 
great that most men try not to admit that they have killed. They 
deny it to others, and they try to deny it to themselves. Dinter 
quotes a hardened veteran who, upon being asked about killing, 
stated emphatically that 

Most of the killing you do in modern war is impersonal. A thing 
few people realize is that you hardly ever see a German. Very few 
men — even in the infantry — actually have the experience of aim- 
ing a weapon at a German and seeing the man fall. 

Even the language of men at war is full of denial of the enormity 
of what they have done. Most soldiers do not "kill," instead the 
enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped 
up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy's 
humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Kraut, 
Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war 
receive benign names — Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, 
Fat Boy, and Thin Man — and the killing weapon of the individual 
soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round. 
Our enemies do the same thing. Matt Brennan tells of Con, a 
Vietnamese scout assigned to his platoon. This individual had 

been a loyal Viet Cong until a North Vietnamese squad made a 
mistake and killed his wife and children. Now he loved to run ahead 
of the Americans, hunting for [North Vietnamese soldiers]. . . . He 
called the Communists gooks, just as we did, and one night I asked 
him why. 

"Con, do you think it's right to call the VC gooks and dinks?" 
He shrugged. "It makes no difference to me. Everything has a 
name. Do you think the Americans are the only ones who do 
that? . . . My company in the jungle . . . called you Big Hairy 
Monkeys. We kill monkeys, and" — he hesitated for an in- 
stant — "we eat them." 

The Burden of Killing 93 

The dead soldier takes his misery with him, but the man who 
killed him must forever live and die with him. The lesson becomes 
increasingly clear: Killing is what war is all about, and killing in 
combat, by its very nature, causes deep wounds of pain and guilt. 
The language of war helps us to deny what war is really about, 
and in doing so it makes war more palatable. 

Chapter Eight 

The Blind Men and the Elephant 

The man who ranges in No Man's Land 
Is dogged by shadows on either hand 6 

— James H. Knight- Adkin 
"No Man's Land" 

A Host of Observers and a Multitude of Answers 

As we have examined each of the components and subcomponents 
of psychiatric casualty causation, we have consistently found au- 
thorities who would claim that their perspective of the problem 
represents the major or primary cause of stress in battle. Many 
have held that fear of death and injury was the primary cause of 
psychiatric casualties. Bartlett feels that "there is perhaps no general 
condition which is more likely to produce a large crop of nervous 
and mental disorders than a state of prolonged and great fatigue." 
General Fergusson states that "lack of food constitutes the single 
biggest assault upon morale." And Murry holds that "coldness is 
enemy number one," while Gabriel makes a powerful argument 
for emotional exhaustion caused by extended periods of autonomic 
fight-or-flight activation. Holmes, on the other hand, spends a 
chapter of his book convincing us of the horror of battle, and he 
claims that "seeing friends killed, or, almost worse, being unable 

The Blind Men and the Elephant 95 

to help them when wounded, leaves enduring scars." In addition 
to these more obvious factors of fear, exhaustion, and horror, I 
have added the less obvious but vitally important factors represented 
by the Wind of Hate and the Burden of Killing. 

Like the blind men of the proverb, each individual feels a piece 
of the elephant, and the enormity of what he has found is over- 
whelming enough to convince each blindly groping observer that 
he has found the essence of the beast. But the whole beast is far 
more enormous and vastly more terrifying than society as a whole 
is prepared to believe. 

It is a combination of factors that forms the beast, and it is a 
combination of stressors that is responsible for psychiatric casualties. 
For instance, when we see incidents of mass psychiatric casualties 
caused by the use of gas in World War I, we must ask ourselves 
what caused the soldiers' trauma. Were they traumatized by fear 
and horror at the gas and the unknown aspect of death and injury 
that it represented? Were they traumatized by the realization that 
someone would hate them enough to do this horrible thing to 
them? Or were they simply sane men unconsciously selecting 
insanity in order to escape from an insane situation, sane men 
taking advantage of a socially and morally acceptable opportunity 
to cast off the burden of responsibility in combat and escape from 
the mutual aggression of the battlefield? Obviously, a concise and 
complete answer would conclude that all of these factors, and 
more, are responsible for the soldier's dilemma. 

Forces That Impede an Understanding of the Beast 

A culture raised on Rambo, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and 
James Bond wants to believe that combat and killing can be done 
with impunity — that we can declare someone to be the enemy 
and that for cause and country the soldiers will cleanly and re- 
morselessly wipe him from the face of the earth. In many ways it 
is simply too painful for society to address what it does when it 
sends its young men off to kill other young men in distant lands. 
And what is too painful to remember, we simply choose to 

96 Killing and Combat Trauma 

forget. Glenn Gray spoke from personal experience in World War 
II when he wrote: 

Few of us can hold on to our real selves long enough to discover 
the real truths about ourselves and this whirling earth to which 
we cling. This is especially true of men in war. The great god 
Man tries to blind us when we enter his realm, and when we leave 
he gives us a generous cup of the waters of Lethe to drink. 

Even the field of psychology seems to be ill prepared to address 
the guilt caused by war and the attendant moral issues. Peter Marin 
condemns the "inadequacy" of our psychological terminology 
in describing the magnitude and reality of the "pain of human 
conscience." As a society, he says, we seem unable to deal with 
moral pain or guilt. Instead it is treated as a neurosis or a pathology, 
"something to escape rather than something to learn from, a disease 
rather than — as it may well be for the vets — an appropriate if 
painful response to the past." Marin goes on to note the same thing 
that I have in my studies, and that is that Veterans Administration 
psychologists are seldom willing to deal with problems of guilt; 
indeed, they often do not even raise the issue of what the soldier 
did in war. Instead they simply, as one VA psychologist put it to 
Marin, "treat the vet's difficulties as problems in adjustment." 

Toward a Greater Understanding of the Heart of Darkness 

During the American Civil War the soldier's first experience in 
combat was called "seeing the elephant." Today the existence of 
our species and of all life on this planet may depend on our not 
just seeing but knowing and controlling the beast called war — and 
the beast within each of us. No more important or vital subject 
for research exists, yet there is that within us that would turn away 
in disgust. And so the study of war has been largely left to the 
soldiers. But Clausewitz warned almost two hundred years ago 
that "it is to no purpose, it is even against one's better interest, 
to turn away from the consideration of the affair because the horror 
of its elements excites repugnance." 


Killing and Physical Distance: 

From a Distance, You Don't Look Anything 

Like a Friend 

Unless he is caught up in murderous ecstasy, destroying is easier 
when done from a little remove. With every foot of distance there 
is a corresponding decrease in reality. Imagination flags and fails 
altogether when distances become too great. So it is that much of 
the mindless cruelty of recent wars has been perpetrated by warriors 
at a distance, who could not guess what havoc their powerful 
weapons were occasioning. 

— Glenn Gray 
The Warriors 

The link between distance and ease of aggression is not a new 
discovery. It has long been understood that there is a direct relation- 
ship between the empathic and physical proximity of the victim, 
and the resultant difficulty and trauma of the kill. This concept 
has fascinated and concerned soldiers, philosophers, anthropolo- 
gists, and psychologists alike. 

At the far end of the spectrum are bombing and artillery, which 
are often used to illustrate the relative ease of long-range killing. 

98 Killing and Physical Distance 



I Sexual Range 

\ Hand-to-Hand-Combat Range 

\ Knife Range 


\ Bayonet Range 





\^ Close Range (Pistol/Rifle) 
^^ Handgrenade Range 


^V^ Mid-Range (Rifle) 

^^^^ Long Range 

^^^^ (Sniper, Anti-Armor Missiles, etc.) 


^"^■'''""x^^Max Range (Bomber. 
^^ Artillery) 

Close Physical Distance from Target Far 

As we draw toward the near end of the spectrum, we begin to 
realize that the resistance to killing becomes increasingly more 
intense. This process culminates at the close end of the spectrum, 
when the resistance to bayoneting or stabbing becomes tremen- 
dously intense, and killing with the bare hands (through such 
common martial arts techniques as crushing the throat with a blow 
or gouging a thumb through the eye and into the brain) becomes 
almost unthinkable. Yet even this is not the end, as we will discover 
when we address the macabre region at the extreme end of the 
scale, where sex and killing intermingle. 

In the same way that the distance relationship has been identified, 
so too have many observers identified the factor of emotional or 
empathic distance. But no one has yet attempted to dissect this 
factor in order to determine its components and the part they play 
in the killing process. 

Chapter One 


A Qualitative Distinction in Death 

The soldier-warrior could kill his collective enemy, which now 
included women and children, without ever seeing them. The 
cries of the wounded and dying went unheard by those who 
inflicted the pain. A man might slay hundreds and never see their 
blood flow. . . . 

Less than a century after the Civil War ended, a single bomb, 
delivered miles above its target, would take the lives of more than 
100,000 people, almost all civilians. The moral distance between 
this event and the tribal warrior facing a single opponent is far 
greater than even the thousands of years and transformations of 
culture that separate them. . . . 

The combatants in modern warfare pitch bombs from 20,000 
feet in the morning, causing untold suffering to a civilian popula- 
tion, and then eat hamburgers for dinner hundreds of miles away 
from the drop zone. The prehistoric warrior met his foe in a direct 
struggle of sinew, muscle, and spirit. If flesh was torn or bone 
broken he felt it give way under his hand. And though death was 
more rare than common (perhaps because he felt the pulse of life 

100 Killing and Physical Distance 

and the nearness of death under his fingers), he also had to live his 
days remembering the man's eyes whose skull he crushed. 

— Richard Heckler 

In Search of the Warrior Spirit 

Hamburg and Babylon: Examples at Extreme Ends 
of the Spectrum 

On July 28, 1943, the British Royal Air Force firebombed Ham- 
burg. Gwynne Dyer tells us that they used the standard mixture 
of bombs, with 

huge numbers of four-pound incendiaries to start fires on roofs 
and thirty-pound ones to penetrate deeper inside buildings, together 
with four thousand-pound high explosive bombs to blow in doors 
and windows over wide areas and fill the streets with craters and 
rubble to hinder fire-fighting equipment. But on a hot, dry summer 
night with good visibility, the unusually tight concentration of the 
bombs in a densely populated working class district created a new 
phenomenon in history: a firestorm. 

Eventually it covered an area of about four square miles, with 
an air temperature at the center of eight hundred degrees Celsius 
and convection winds blowing inward with hurricane force. One 
survivor said the sound of the wind was "like the Devil laughing." 
. . . Practically all the apartment blocks in the firestorm area had 
underground shelters, but nobody who stayed in them survived; 
those who were not cremated died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 
But to venture into the streets was to risk being swept by the wind 
into the very heart of the firestorm. 

Seventy thousand people died at Hamburg the night the air caught 
fire. They were mostly women, children, and the elderly, since 
those of soldiering age were generally at the front. They died 
horrible deaths, burning and suffocating. If bomber crew members 
had had to turn a flamethrower on each one of these seventy 
thousand women and children, or worse yet slit each of their 
throats, the awfulness and trauma inherent in the act would have 

Distance: A Qualitative Distinction 101 

been of such a magnitude that it simply would not have happened. 
But when it is done from thousands of feet in the air, where the 
screams cannot be heard and the burning bodies cannot be seen, 
it is easy. 

It seemed as though the whole of Hamburg was on fire from one 
end to the other and a huge column of smoke was towering well 
above us — and we were at 20,000 feet! Set in the darkness was 
a turbulent dome of bright red fire, lighted and ignited like the 
glowing heart of a vast brazier. I saw no streets, no outlines of 
buildings, only brighter fires which flared like yellow torches against 
a background of bright red ash. Above the city was a misty red 
haze. I looked down, fascinated but aghast, satisfied yet horrified. 

— RAF aircrew over Hamburg, July 28, 1943 
quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

From twenty thousand feet the killer could feel fascinated and 
satisfied with his work, but this is what the people on the ground 
were experiencing: 

Mother wrapped me in wet sheets, kissed me, and said, "Run!" 
I hesitated at the door. In front of me I could see only fire — every- 
thing red, like the door to a furnace. An intense heat struck me. 
A burning beam fell in front of my feet. I shied back but then, 
when I was ready to jump over it, it was whirled away by a ghostly 
hand. The sheets around me acted as sails and I had the feeling 
that I was being carried away by the storm. I reached the front of 
a five-story building . . . which . . . had been bombed and burned 
out in a previous raid and there was not much in it for the fire to 
get hold of. Someone came out, grabbed me in their arms, and 
pulled me into the doorway. 

— Traute Koch, age fifteen in 1943 
quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

Seventy thousand died at Hamburg. Eighty thousand or so died 
in 1945 during a similar firebombing in Dresden. Two hundred 
and twenty-five thousand died in firestorms over Tokyo as a result 

102 Killing and Physical Distance 

of only two firebomb raids. When the atomic bomb was dropped 
over Hiroshima, seventy thousand died. Throughout World War 
II bomber crews on both sides killed millions of women, children, 
and elderly people, no different from their own wives, children, 
and parents. The pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and gunners in 
these aircraft were able to bring themselves to kill these civilians 
primarily through application of the mental leverage provided to 
them by the distance factor. Intellectually, they understood the 
horror of what they were doing. Emotionally, the distance involved 
permitted them to deny it. Despite what a recent popular song 
might tell us, from a distance you don't look anything like a friend. 
From a distance, I can deny your humanity; and from a distance, 
I cannot hear your screams. 


In 689 B.C. King Sennacherib of Assyria destroyed the city of 

I leveled the city and its houses from the foundations to the top, 
I destroyed them and consumed them with fire. I tore down and 
removed the outer and inner walls, the temples and the ziggurats 
built of brick, and dumped the rubble in the Arahtu canal. And 
after I had destroyed Babylon, smashed its gods and massacred its 
population, I tore up its soil and threw it into the Euphrates so 
that it was carried by the river down to the sea. 

Gwynne Dyer uses this quote to point out that although more labor 
intensive than nuclear weapons, the physical effect on Babylon was 
litde different from the effect of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima 
or firebombs at Dresden. Physically the effect is the same, but 
psychologically the difference is tremendous. 

No personal accounts of this horror have lasted through the 
ages, but we can see an echo of murder on such a scale in the 
accounts of survivors of Nazi atrocities. In This Way for the Gas, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, Tadeusz Borowski's memoir of his experi- 
ences in a Nazi death camp, he gives us a brief glimpse of the 
sheer horror of such mass killing: 

Distance: A Qualitative Distinction 103 

We climb inside [a railroad car]. In the corners amid human ex- 
crement and abandoned wrist-watches lie squashed, trampled in- 
fants, naked little monsters with enormous heads and bloated 
bellies. We carry them out like chickens, holding several in each 

... I see four . . . men lugging a corpse: a huge swollen fe- 
male corpse. Cursing, dripping wet from the strain, they kick out 
of their way some stray children who have been running all over 
the ramp, howling like dogs. The men pick them up by the collars, 
heads, arms, and toss them inside the trucks, on top of the heaps. 
The four men have trouble lifting the fat corpse onto the car, they 
call others for help, and all together they hoist up the mound of 
meat. Big swollen, puffed-up corpses are being collected from 
all over the ramp; on top of them are piled the invalids, the 
smothered, the sick, the unconscious. The heap seethes, howls, 

In Babylon someone had to personally hold down tens of thousands 
of men, women, and children, while someone else stabbed and 
hacked at these horrified Babylonians. One by one. Grandfathers 
struggled and wept as screaming grandchildren and daughters and 
sons were raped and slaughtered. Mothers and fathers writhed in 
their dying agony as they watched their children being raped and 
butchered. Again, Borowski captures a faint timeless echo of this 
mass murder of the innocent in a terse paragraph telling of the 
murder of a single lost, confused, frightened little Jewish girl: 

This time a little girl pushes herself halfway through the small 
window [of the cattle car] and, losing her balance, falls out on the 
gravel. Stunned, she lies still for a moment, then stands up and 
begins walking around in a circle, faster and faster, waving her 
rigid arms in the air, breathing loudly and spasmodically, whining 
in a faint voice. Her mind has given way ... an S.S. man approaches 
calmly, his heavy boot strikes between her shoulders. She falls. 
Holding her down with his foot, he draws his revolver, fires once, 
then again. She remains face down, kicking the gravel with her 
feet, until she stiffens. 

104 Killing and Physical Distance 

Exchange the revolver for a sword, and then multiply this scene 
by tens of thousands, and you have the horror that was the sack 
of Babylon and a thousand other forgotten cities and nations. 

Borowski knew that with these Jewish victims of a later-day 
Babylon "experienced professionals will probe into every recess 
of their flesh, will pull the gold from under the tongue and the 
diamonds from the uterus and the colon." History tells us that in 
Babylon and other such situations the victims were held down 
while their bodies were slit open to determine if they had swal- 
lowed or secreted valuables, and then they were often left to die 
slowly as they crawled off with their torn intestines and stomach 
dragging after them. 

Even the Nazis usually segregated sexes and families and could 
seldom bring themselves to individually bayonet their victims. 
They preferred machine guns upon occasion, and gas chamber 
showers for the really big work. The horror of Babylon staggers 
the imagination. 1 

The Difference 

I could not visualize the horrible deaths my bombs . . . had caused 
here. I had no feeling of guilt. I had no feeling of accomplishment. 

— J. Douglas Harvey, World War II bomber pilot, visiting rebuilt 
Berlin in the 1960s 
quoted in Paul Fussell, Wartime 

What is the difference between what happened in Hamburg and 
in Babylon? There was no distinction in the results — in both, 
the innocent populations involved died horribly and their cities 
were destroyed. So what is the difference? 

The difference is the difference between what the Nazi execu- 
tioners did to the Jews and what the Allied bombardiers did to 
Germany and Japan. The difference is the difference between what 
Lieutenant Calley did to a village full of Vietnamese, and what 
many pilots and artillerymen did to similar Vietnamese villages. 

The difference is that, emotionally, when we dwell on the 
butchers of Babylon or Auschwitz or My Lai, we feel revulsion 
at the psychotic and alien state that permitted these individuals to 

Distance: A Qualitative Distinction 105 

perform their awful deeds. We cannot understand how anyone 
could perform such inhuman atrocities on their fellow man. We 
call it murder, and we hunt down and prosecute the criminals 
responsible, be they Nazi war criminals or American war criminals. 
And by prosecuting these individuals we gain peace of mind by 
affirming to ourselves that this is an aberration that civilized societies 
do not tolerate. 

But when most people think of those who bombed Hamburg 
or Hiroshima, there is no feeling of disgust for the deed, certainly 
not the intensity of disgust felt for Nazi executioners. When we 
mentally empathize with the bomber crews, when we put ourselves 
in their places, most cannot truly see themselves doing any different 
than they did. Therefore we do not judge them as criminals. We 
rationalize their actions and most of us have a gut feeling that we 
could have done what the bomber crews did, but could not ever 
have done what the executioners did. 

When we reach out with empathy in these circumstances, we 
also empathize with the victims. Oddly enough, very few survivors 
of strategic bombing in Britain and Germany suffered from long- 
term emotional trauma resulting from their experiences, while 
most of the survivors of Nazi concentration camps — and many 
soldiers in battle — did and continue to do so. Incredibly, yet 
undeniably, there is a qualitative distinction in the eyes of those who 
suffered: the survivors of Auschwitz were personally traumatized by 
criminals and suffered lifelong psychological damage from their 
experiences, whereas the survivors of Hamburg were incidental 
victims of an act of war and were able to put it behind them. 

Glenn Gray, a trained philosopher, served in an intelligence 
unit in World War II that was responsible for dealing with civilians 
ranging from spies to Nazi collaborators to survivors of concentra- 
tion camps. He understood this qualitative distinction in the man- 
ner of death: 

Not the frequency of death but the manner of dying makes a 
qualitative difference. Death in war is commonly caused by mem- 
bers of my own species actively seeking my end, despite the fact 
that they may never have seen me and have no personal reason 
for enmity. It is death brought about by hostile intent rather than 

106 Killing and Physical Distance 

by accident or natural causes that separates war from peace so com- 

Even our legal system is established around a determination of 
intent. Emotionally and intellectually we can readily grasp the 
difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter. The 
distinction based on intent represents an institutionalization of our 
emotional responses to these situations. 

The issue of relative trauma in killing situations (for both the 
victim and the killer) was addressed earlier. It is sufficient to say 
here that at some instinctive, empathic level both survivors and 
historical observers understand the qualitative distinction between 
dying in a bombing attack and dying in a concentration camp. 
Bombing deaths are buffered by the all-important factor of distance. 
They represent an impersonal act of war in which specific deaths are 
unintended and almost accidental in nature. ("Collateral damage" is 
the military euphemism for such killing of civilians while bombing 
military targets.) Execution of innocent civilians, a subject to be 
addressed later in this study, is on the other hand a highly personal 
act of psychotic irrationality that openly refutes the humanity of 
the victims. 

So what is the difference? Ultimately, the difference is distance. 

Chapter Two 

Killing at Maximum and Long Range: 
Never a Need for Repentance or Regret 

To fight from a distance is instinctive in man. From the first day 
he has worked to this end, and he continues to do so. 

— Ardant du Picq 
Battle Studies 

Maximum Range: "They Can Pretend They Are Not Killing 
Human Beings" 

Our examination of the killing process at different points along 
the distance spectrum begins at maximum range. For our purposes 
"maximum range" is defined as a range at which the killer is 
unable to perceive his individual victims without using some form 
of mechanical assistance — binoculars, radar, periscope, remote 
TV camera, and so on. 

Gray states the matter clearly: "Many a pilot or artilleryman 
who has destroyed untold numbers of terrified noncombatants has 
never felt any need for repentance or regret." And Dyer echoes 
and reinforces Gray when he notes that there has never been any 
difficulty in getting artillerymen, bomber crews, or naval personnel 
to kill: 

108 Killing and Physical Distance 

Partly it is the same pressure that keeps machine gun crews fir- 
ing — they are being observed by their fellows — but even more 
important is the intervention of distance and machinery between 
them and the enemy; they can pretend they are not killing hu- 
man beings. 

On the whole, however, distance is a sufficient buffer: gunners 
fire at grid references they cannot see; submarine crews fire torpe- 
does at "ships" (and not, somehow, at the people in the ships); 
pilots launch their missiles at "targets." 

Dyer covers most of the maximum-range types of killing here. 
Artillery crews, bomber crews, naval gunners, and missile crews — 
at sea and on the ground — are all protected by the same powerful 
combination of group absolution, mechanical distance, and, most 
pertinent to our current discussion, physical distance. 

In years of research and reading on the subject of killing in 
combat I have not found one single instance of individuals who 
have refused to kill the enemy under these circumstances, nor 
have I found a single instance of psychiatric trauma associated with 
this type of killing. Even in the case of the individuals who dropped 
the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, contrary to popular 
myth, there are no indications of psychological problems. Historical 
accounts indicate that the pilot of the aircraft that made the weather 
reconnaissance for the Enola Gay had a series of disciplinary and 
criminal problems before the bombing, and it was his continued 
problems after leaving the service that formed the sole basis of the 
popular myth of suicide and mental problems among these crews. 

Long Range: "Not Eyeball to Eyeball with the Sweat and the 
Emotions of Combat" 

"Long range" is defined here as the range at which the average 
soldier may be able to see the enemy, but is unable to kill him 
without some form of special weaponry — sniper weapons, anti- 
armor missiles, or tank fire. 

Holmes tells of a World War I Australian sniper recalling how, 
after shooting a German observer, "a queer thrill shot through 
me, it was a different feeling to that which I had when I shot my 

Killing at Maximum and Long Range 109 

first kangaroo when I was a boy. For an instant I felt sick and 
faint; but the feeling soon passed." 

Here we begin to see some disturbance at the act of killing, 
but snipers doctrinally operate as teams, and like maximum-range 
killers they are protected by the same potent combination of group 
absolution, mechanical distance (the rifle scope), and physical 
distance. Their observations and the accounts of their kills are 
strangely depersonalized and different from those that we will see 
at closer ranges: 

At 2109 [on February 3, 1969] five Viet Cong moved from the 
woodline to the edge of the rice paddy and the first Viet Cong in 
the group was taken under fire . . . resulting in one Viet Cong 
killed. Immediately the other Viet Cong formed a huddle around 
the fallen body, apparently not quite sure of what had taken place. 
Sergeant Waldron continued engaging the Viet Cong one by one 
until a total of [all] five Viet Cong were killed. 2 

Even given the buffer of the tremendous distance at which snipers 
work, some snipers can rationalize their actions by killing only 
enemy leaders. One marine sniper told D. J. Truby "you don't 
like to hit ordinary troops, because they're usually scared draftees 
or worse. . . . The guys to shoot are big brass." And just as a 
remarkably small percentage of World War II fighter pilots were 
capable of doing the majority of the air-to-air killing, so too have 
a few carefully selected and trained snipers made a tremendous 
and disproportionate contribution to their nation's war effort by 
remorselessly and mercilessly killing large numbers of the enemy. 

From January 7 to July 24, 1969, U.S. Army snipers in Vietnam 
accounted for 1 ,245 confirmed kills, with an average of 1 .39 bullets 
expended per kill. (Compare this with the average fifty thousand 
rounds of ammunition required for every enemy soldier killed in 
Vietnam.) 3 In the course of calculating confirmed sniper kills, no 
enemy was counted as a kill unless an American soldier actually 
was able to physically "place his foot" on the body. 

Yet for all its effectiveness, there is a strange revulsion and 
resistance toward this very personal, one-on-one killing by snipers. 
Peter Staff, in his book on snipers, notes that after every war "the 

110 Killing and Physical Distance 

United States military rushes to distance itself from its snipers. 
The same men called upon to perform impossible missions during 
combat quickly find themselves to be peacetime pariahs. World 
War I, World War II, Korea. It was the same." 

World War II-era fighter pilots, firing their battery of heavy 
machine guns at the enemy, would probably fit into the long- 
range category, but they are hampered by lack of group absolution 
and their powerful identification with an enemy who is so remark- 
ably similar to them. Colonel Barry Bridger of the U.S. Air Force 
described to Dyer the difference between air combat (long range) 
and ground battle (medium and close range): 

I would draw one distinction between being a combat aviator and 
being someone who is fighting the enemy face-to-face on the 
ground. In the air environment, it's very clinical, very clean, and 
it's not so personalized. You see an aircraft; you see a target on 
the ground — you're not eyeball to eyeball with the sweat and the 
emotions of combat, and so it doesn't become so emotional for 
you and so personalized. And I think it is easier to do in that 
sense — you're not so affected. 

Yet even with this advantage, only 1 percent of U.S. fighter pilots 
accounted for nearly 40 percent of all enemy pilots shot down in 
World War II; the majority apparently did not shoot anyone down 
or even try to. 

Chapter Three 

Killing at Mid- and Hand-Grenade Range: 
"You Can Never Be Sure It Was You" 

Midrange: Denial Based "on the Thinnest of Evidence" 

We will call midrange that range at which the soldier can see and 
engage the enemy with rifle fire while still unable to perceive the 
extent of the wounds inflicted or the sounds and facial expressions 
of the victim when he is hit. In fact, at this range, the soldier can 
still deny that it was he who killed the enemy. When asked about 
his experiences, one World War II veteran told me that "there 
were so many other guys firing, you can never be sure it was you. 
You shoot, you see a guy fall, and anyone could have been the 
one that hit him." 

This is a fairly typical response by veterans to those who ask 
about their personal kills. Holmes states, "Most of the veterans I 
interviewed were infantrymen with front-line service, yet fewer 
than half of them believed that they had actually killed an enemy, 
and often this belief was based on the thinnest of evidence." 

When soldiers do kill the enemy they appear to go through a 
series of emotional stages. The actual kill is usually described as 
being reflexive or automatic. Immediately after the kill the soldier 
goes through a period of euphoria and elation, which is usually 
followed by a period of guilt and remorse. 4 The intensity and 

112 Killing and Physical Distance 

duration of these periods are closely related to distance. At midrange 
we see much of the euphoria stage. The future field marshal Slim 
wrote of experiencing this euphoria upon shooting a Turk in 
Mesopotamia in 1917. "I suppose it is brutal," wrote Slim, "but 
I had a feeling of the most intense satisfaction as the wretched 
Turk went spinning down." 

After this euphoria stage, even at midrange, the remorse stage 
can hit hard. One Napoleonic-era British soldier quoted by Holmes 
described how he was overcome with horror when he first shot 
a Frenchman. "I reproached myself as a destroyer," he wrote. 
"An indescribable uneasiness came over me, I felt almost like 
a criminal." 

If a soldier goes up and looks at his kill — a common occurrence 
when the tactical situation permits — the trauma grows even 
worse, since some of the psychological buffer created by a midrange 
kill disappears upon seeing the victim at close range. Holmes tells 
of a World War I British veteran who was a seventeen-year-old 
private when he viewed his handiwork: "This was the first time 
I had killed anybody and when things quieted down I went and 
looked at a German I knew I had shot. I remember thinking that 
he looked old enough to have a family and I felt very sorry." 

Hand-Grenade Range: "We Heard the Shrieks and 
Were Nauseated" 

Hand-grenade range can be anywhere from a few yards to as many 
as thirty-five or forty yards. For the purposes of the physical range 
spectrum, when we use the term "hand-grenade range" we are 
referring to a specific kill in which a hand grenade is used. A hand- 
grenade kill is distinguished from a close kill in that the killer does 
not have to see his victims as they die. In fact, at close range to 
midrange, if a soldier is in direct fine of sight when his grenade 
explodes, he will become a victim of his own instrument. 

Holmes tells how in the trenches of World War I one soldier 
threw a grenade at a group of Germans, and terrible cries followed 
its explosion. "Although we had been terribly hardened," said the 
soldier, "my blood froze." Not having to look at one's victim 
should make this a killing method that is largely free of trauma, 

Killing at Mid- and Hand-Grenade Range 113 

if the soldier does not have to look at his handiwork, and if it 
were not for these screams. 

The particular effectiveness of these psychologically and physi- 
cally powerful weapons in the trenches of World War I is told of 
in detail by Holmes: 

Both sides habitually bombed [hand-grenaded] dugouts containing 
men who might have surrendered had they been given a chance 
to do so. A British soldier, newly captured in March 1918, told 
his captor that there were some wounded in one of the dugouts: 
"He took a stick grenade out, pulled the pin out and threw it 
down the dug-out. We heard the shrieks and were nauseated, but 
we were completely powerless. But it was all in a melee and we 
might have done the same in the circumstances." 

In the close-in trench battles of World War I hand grenades were 
psychologically and physically easier to use, so much so that Keegan 
and Holmes tell us that "the infantryman had forgotten how to 
deliver accurate fire with his rifle; his main weapon had become 
the grenade." And we can begin to understand that this is because 
the emotional trauma associated with a grenade kill can be less 
than that of a close-range kill, especially if the killer does not have 
to look at his victims or hear them die. 

Chapter Four 

Killing at Close Range: "I Knew That It 
Was up to Me, Personally, to Kill Him" 

An Israeli paratrooper came face to face with a huge Jordanian 
during the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967. "We 
looked at each other for half a second and I knew that it was up 
to me, personally, to kill him, there was no one else there. The 
whole thing must have lasted less than a second, but it's printed 
on my mind like a slow motion movie. I fired from the hip and 
I can still see the bullets splashed against the wall about a meter 
to his left. I moved the Uzi, slowly, slowly it seemed, until I hit 
him in the body. He slipped to his knees, then he raised his head, 
with his face terrible, twisted in pain and hate, yes such hate. I 
fired again and somehow got him in the head. There was so much 
blood ... I vomited, until the rest of the boys came up." 

— John Keegan and Richard Holmes 

Close range involves any kill with a projectile weapon from point- 
blank range, extending to midrange. The key factor in close range 
is the undeniable certainty of responsibility on the part of the killer. 
In Vietnam the term "personal kill" was used to distinguish the 
act of killing a specific individual with a direct-fire weapon and 

Killing at Close Range 115 

being absolutely sure of having done it oneself. The vast majority 
of personal kills and the resultant trauma occur at this range. 

For analysis purposes I have divided examples of close-range 
encounters into those in which the narrator elects to kill, and those 
in which he does not kill. 

To Kill . . . 

At close range the euphoria stage, although brief, fleeting, and not 
often mentioned, still appears to be experienced in some form by 
most soldiers. Upon being asked, most of the combat veterans 
whom I have interviewed will admit to having experienced a brief 
feeling of elation upon succeeding in killing the enemy. Usually 
this euphoria stage is almost instantly overwhelmed by the guilt 
stage as the soldier is faced with the undeniable evidence of what 
he has done, and the guilt stage is often so strong as to result in 
physical revulsion and vomiting. 

When the soldier kills at close range, it is by its very nature an 
intensely vivid and personal matter. A U.S. Special Forces (Green 
Beret) officer described his revulsion during a personal kill while 
reacting to an ambush in Vietnam: 

I took two of the men and went around the flank ... to outflank 
them and take them out. Well, I got around to the side and pointed 
my Ml 6 at them and this person turned around and just stared, 
and I froze, 'cos it was a boy, I would say between the ages of 
twelve and fourteen. When he turned at me and looked, all of a 
sudden he turned his whole body and pointed his automatic weapon 
at me, I just opened up, fired the whole twenty rounds right at 
the kid, and he just laid there. I dropped my weapon and cried. 

— John Keegan and Richard Holmes 

Author and World War II marine veteran William Manchester 
vividly described the same psychological responses to his own 
close-range kill: 

I was utterly terrified — petrified — but I knew there had to be 
a Japanese sniper in a small fishing shack near the shore. He was 

116 Killing and Physical Distance 

firing in the other direction at Marines in another battalion, but I 
knew as soon as he picked off the people there — there was a 
window on our side — that he would start picking us off. And 
there was nobody else to go . . . and so I ran towards the shack 
and broke in and found myself in an empty room. 

There was a door which meant there was another room and 
the sniper was in that — and I just broke that down. I was just 
absolutely gripped by the fear that this man would expect me and 
would shoot me. But as it turned out he was in a sniper harness 
and he couldn't turn around fast enough. He was entangled in the 
harness so I shot him with a .45 and I felt remorse and shame. I 
can remember whispering foolishly, "I'm sorry" and then just 
throwing up ... I threw up all over myself. It was a betrayal of 
what I'd been taught since a child. 

At this range the screams and cries of the enemy can be heard, 
adding greatly to the extent of the trauma experienced by the 
killer. Major General Frank Richardson told Holmes that "it is a 
touching fact that men, dying in battle, often call upon their 
mothers. I have heard them do so in five languages." 

Oftentimes the death inflicted on the enemy during a close- 
range kill is not instant, and the killer finds himself in the position 
of comforting his victim in his last moments. Here we see Harry 
Stewart, a Ranger and U.S. Army master sergeant — the epitome 
of toughness and professionalism — telling of a remarkable incident 
that occurred during the Tet offensive in 1968: 

All of a sudden there was a guy firing a pistol right at us. It looked 
as big as a 175 [mm howitzer] just then. The first round hit the 
fireman on my left in the chest. The second round hit me in the 
right arm, although I didn't know it. The third round hit the 
fireman on my right in the gut. By this time I had bounced off 
the wall to my left. . . . 

I charged the VC [Viet Cong], firing my M-16. He fell at my 
feet. He was still alive but would soon die. I reached down and 
took the pistol from his hand. I can still see those eyes, looking at 
me in hate. . . . 

Killing at Close Range 117 

Later I walked over to take another look at the VC I had shot. 
He was still alive and looking at me with those eyes. The flies 
were beginning to get all over him. I put a blanket over him and 
rubbed water from my canteen onto his lips. That hard stare started 
to leave his eyes. He wanted to talk but was too far gone. I lit a 
cigarette, took a few puffs, and put it to his lips. He could barely 
puff. We each had had a few drags and that hard look had left his 
eyes before he died. 5 

Even when the killer has every motivation to hate and despise his 
victim, and every reason to quickly depart his close-range kill, he 
is often riveted, frozen by the magnitude of what he has done. 
Here Lieutenant Dieter Dengler — recipient of the Navy Cross, 
America's second-highest decoration for heroism, and the only 
U.S. flier to escape from a Southeast Asian prison camp after being 
shot down and captured — found himself in just such a situation. 
Upon securing a weapon and breaking out of prison, Dieter was 
confronted by one of the sadistic guards who had tormented him: 

Only three feet away, Moron [their nickname for this particular 
guard] was coming at me full gallop, his machete cocked high over 
his head. I fired from the hip point-blank into him. The force of 
the blast hung him in the air, his machete still raised, and then 
spun him backwards to the ground. There was blood gushing from 
a huge hole in his back. I stood over him with my mouth open 
wide, amazed that a single slug could do such damage and mindful 
of nothing but the horrible-looking back. 

In all of these narratives it is this emotional reaction that the writer 
wanted to tell us about. Of all the things that occurred in the 
months and years of war experienced by these men, the close- 
range kills quoted here, and all the many throughout this study, 
appear to be something these veterans wanted to get off their 
chests. A first sergeant who was a Vietnam Special Forces veteran 
once put it this way when describing combat to me: "When you 
get up close and personal," he drawled with a cud of chewing 
tobacco in his cheek, "where you can hear 'em scream and see 
'em die," and here he spit tobacco for emphasis, "it's a bitch." 

118 Killing and Physical Distance 

. . . And Not to Kill 

At close range the resistance to killing an opponent is tremendous. 
When one looks an opponent in the eye, and knows that he is 
young or old, scared or angry, it is not possible to deny that the 
individual about to be killed is much like oneself. It is here that 
many personal narratives of nonkilling situations occur. Marshall, 
Keegan, Holmes, Griffith, virtually all who have studied the matter 
in depth, agree that such nonparticipation is apparently very com- 
mon in midrange conflict, but in close-range situations it becomes 
so remarkable — and undeniable — that we can find numerous 
first-person narratives. 

Keegan and Holmes tell of a group of Americans who jumped 
into a ditch while under artillery fire in Sicily during World War II: 

And lo and behold there were about five Germans, and maybe 
four or five of us, and we didn't give any thought whatsoever to 
fighting at first. . . . Then I realized that they had their rifles, we 
had ours and then shells were landing and we were cowering against 
the side of the ditch, the Germans were doing the same thing. 
And then the next thing you know, there was a lull, we took 
cigarettes out and we passed 'em around, we were smoking and 
it's a feeling I cannot describe, but it was a feeling that this was 
not the time to be shooting at one another. . . . They were human 
beings, like us, they were just as scared. 

Marshall describes a similar situation when Captain Willis, an 
American company commander leading his unit along a streambed 
in Vietnam, was suddenly confronted with a North Vietnamese 

Willis came abreast of him, his M-16 pointed at the man's chest. 
They stood not five feet apart. The soldier's AK 47 was pointed 
straight at Willis. 

The captain vigorously shook his head. 

The NVA soldier shook his head just as vigorously. 

It was a truce, cease-fire, gentleman's agreement or a deal. . . . 
The soldier sank back into the darkness and Willis stumbled on. 

Killing at Close Range 119 

As men draw this near it becomes extremely difficult to deny 
their humanity. Looking in a man's face, seeing his eyes and his 
fear, eliminate denial. At this range the interpersonal nature of the 
killing has shifted. Instead of shooting at a uniform and killing a 
generalized enemy, now the killer must shoot at a person and kill 
a specific individual. Most simply cannot or will not do it. 

Chapter Five 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range: 
An "Intimate Brutality" 

At the physical distance in which a soldier has to use a nonprojectile 
weapon, such as a bayonet or spear, two important corollaries of 
the physical relationship come into play. 

First we must recognize that it is psychologically easier to kill 
with an edged weapon that permits a long stand-off range, and 
increasingly more difficult as the stand-off range decreases. Thus 
it is considerably easier to impale a man with a twenty-foot pike 
than it is to stab him with a six-inch knife. 

The physical range provided by the spears of the Greek and 
Macedonian phalanx provided much of the psychological leverage 
that permitted Alexander the Great to conquer the known world. 6 
The psychological leverage provided by the hedge of pikes was 
so powerful that the phalanx was resurrected in the Middle Ages 
and used successfully in the era of mounted knights. Ultimately 
the phalanx was only replaced by the advent of the superior postur- 
ing and psychological leverage provided by gunpowder projec- 
tile weapons. 

The second corollary to the distance relationship is that it is far 
easier to deliver a slashing or hacking blow than a piercing blow. 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range 121 

To pierce is to penetrate, while to slash is to sidestep or deny the 
objective of piercing into the enemy's essence. 

For a bayonet-, spear-, or sword-armed soldier his weapon 
becomes a natural extension of his body — an appendage. And 
the piercing of the enemy's body with this appendage is an act 
with some of the sexual connotations we will see in hand-to-hand 
combat range. To reach out and penetrate the enemy's flesh and 
thrust a portion of ourselves into his vitals is deeply akin to the 
sexual act, yet deadly, and is therefore strongly repulsive to us. 

The Romans apparendy had a serious problem with their soldiers 
not wanting to use piercing blows, for the ancient Roman tactician 
and historian Vegetius emphasized this point at length in a section 
entitled "Not to Cut, but to Thrust with the Sword." He says: 

They were likewise taught not to cut but to thrust with their 
swords. For the Romans not only made jest of those who fought 
with the edge of that weapon, but always found them an easy 
conquest. A stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much 
force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are defended by 
the bones and armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates 
but two inches, is generally fatal. 7 

Bayonet Range 

Bob McKenna, a professional soldier and magazine columnist, 
draws upon more than sixteen years of active military service in 
Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia in order to under- 
stand what he calls the "intimate brutality" of bayonet kills. "The 
thought of cold steel sliding into your guts," says McKenna, "is 
more horrific and real than the thought of a bullet doing the 
same — perhaps because you can see the steel coming." This pow- 
erful revulsion to being killed with cold steel can also be observed 
in mutinous Indian soldiers captured during the 1857 Sepoy Mu- 
tiny who "begged for the bullet" by pleading to be executed with 
a rifle shot rather than the bayonet. More recently, according to 
AP news articles, we have seen this in Rwanda, where the Hutu 
tribesmen made their Tutsi victims purchase the bullets they would 
be killed with in order to avoid being hacked to death. 

122 Killing and Physical Distance 

It is not just the killer who feels this profound revulsion toward 
the intimate brutality of a bayonet kill. John Keegan's landmark 
book The Face of Battle makes a comparative study of Agincourt 
(1415), Waterloo (1815), and the Somme (1916). In his analysis 
of these three battles spanning more than five hundred years, 
Keegan repeatedly notes the amazing absence of bayonet wounds 
incurred during the massed bayonet attacks at Waterloo and the 
Somme. At Waterloo Keegan notes that "there were numbers of 
sword and lance wounds to be treated and some bayonet wounds, 
though these had usually been inflicted after the man had already 
been disabled, there being no evidence of the armies having crossed 
bayonets at Waterloo." By World War I edged-weapon combat 
had almost disappeared, and Keegan notes that in the Battle of the 
Somme, "edged-weapon wounds were a fraction of one per cent 
of all wounds inflicted." 

Three major psychological factors come into play in bayonet 
combat. First, the vast majority of soldiers who do approach bayo- 
net range with the enemy use the butt of the weapon or any other 
available means to incapacitate or injure the enemy rather than 
skewer him. Second, when the bayonet is used, the close range 
at which the work is done results in a situation with enormous 
potential for psychological trauma. And, finally, the resistance to 
killing with the bayonet is equal only to the enemy's horror at 
having this done to him. Thus in bayonet charges one side or the 
other invariably flees before the actual crossing of bayonets occurs. 

Actual bayonet combat is extremely rare in military history. General 
Trochu saw only one bayonet fight in a lifetime of soldiering with 
the French army in the nineteenth century, and that was when 
French units collided by accident with a Russian regiment in the 
heavy fog of the Crimean War's Battle of Inkerman in 1854. And 
in these rare bayonet engagements actual bayonet wounds were 
even rarer yet. 

When this uncommon event does occur, and one bayonet- 
armed man stands face-to-face with another, what happens most 
commonly is anything but a thrust with the bayonet. Just as Roman 
legionnaires had to fight the tendency to slash with their swords 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range 123 

rather than thrust, so too do modern soldiers tend to use their 
weapons in a manner that will not necessitate thrusting into their 
enemy's bodies. 

Holmes says that despite all the bayonet training soldiers receive, 
"in combat they very often reversed their weapons and used them 
as clubs. . . . The Germans seem to have a positive penchant for 
using the butt rather than the bayonet. ... In close-in fighting the 
Germans preferred clubs, coshes, and sharpened spades." Note that 
all of these are bludgeoning or hacking weapons. 

He goes on to give a superb example of the subtle and uncon- 
scious nature of this resistance to bayoneting: "Prince Frederick 
Charles asked a [World War I] German infantryman why he did 
this. 'I don't know,' replied the soldier. 'When you get your dander 
up the thing turns round in your hand of itself" 

Numerous accounts of American Civil War battles indicate the 
same resistance to use of the bayonet on the part of the vast majority 
of soldiers on both sides. In melees both Yank and Reb preferred 
to use the butt of the weapon, or to swing their muskets by the 
barrel like a club, rather than gut the enemy with their bayonets. 
Some writers have concluded that a specific characteristic of this 
brother-against-brother civil war must have been the cause of the 
soldier's reluctance to bayonet his enemy, but wound statistics 
from nearly two centuries of battles indicate that what is revealed 
here is a basic, profound, and universal insight into human nature. 
First, the closer the soldier draws to his enemy the harder it is to 
kill him, until at bayonet range it becomes extremely difficult, 
and, second, the average human being has a strong resistance to 
piercing the body of another of his own kind with a handheld 
edged weapon, preferring to club or slash at the enemy. 

Since personal kills with a bayonet are so extraordinarily rare on 
the battlefield, it is much to Richard Holmes's credit that his 
lifetime of study in this field has gleaned the following personal 
narratives from individuals who contributed to this "fraction of 
one per cent of all wounds inflicted" in modern war. 

In one such narrative, a lance corporal in the German infantry 
in 1915 describes a bayonet kill: 

124 Killing and Physical Distance 

We got the order to storm a French position, strongly held by the 
enemy, and during the ensuing melee a French corporal suddenly 
stood before me, both our bayonets at the ready, he to kill me, I 
to kill him. Saber duels in Freiburg had taught me to be quicker 
than he and pushing his weapon aside I stabbed him through the 
chest. He dropped his rifle and fell, and the blood shot out of his 
mouth. I stood over him for a few seconds and then I gave him 
the coup de grace. After we had taken the enemy position, I felt 
giddy, my knees shook, and I was actually sick. 

He goes on to state that this bayoneted Frenchman, apparently 
above all other incidents in combat, haunted his dreams for many 
nights thereafter. Indeed, the "intimate brutality" of bayonet kill- 
ing gives every indication of being a circumstance with tremen- 
dous potential for psychological trauma. 

An Australian soldier in World War I, writing in a letter to his 
father, puts a distinctly different light on bayoneting Germans: 

Strike me pink the square heads are dead mongrels. They will keep 
firing until you are two yds. off them & then drop their rifles & 
ask for mercy. They get it too right where the chicken gets the 
axe. . . . I . . . will fix a few more before I have finished. Its good 
sport father when the bayonet goes in there eyes bulge out like 
prawns. [Sic] 

If we can believe what is said here, and if both the killing and the 
lack of remorse were not just idle bragging to his father, then this 
soldier represents one of those rare soldiers who have the internal 
makeup to participate in such an act. Later in this book we will 
address predisposition as a factor in killing, with particular emphasis 
on the 2 percent who are predisposed toward what has been termed 
"aggressive psychopathic" tendencies. And in the section "Killing 
and Atrocities" we will more closely consider the process in which 
soldiers who fight at close range and attempt to surrender stand a 
good chance of being killed on the spot by the soldiers they had 
most recendy been trying to kill. The objective here is to gain 
insight into the nature of killing with edged weapons, and into 
the nature of those who are able to kill in this manner. And from 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range 125 

what we can observe, it must be a rare and unusual individual 
who can find such activity to be "good sport." 

Another Australian, a World War I veteran of the first Batde 
of Gaza, who apparently did not participate in any bayonet kills, 
described bayonet fighting as "just berserk slaughter ... the grunt- 
ing breaths, the gritting teeth and the staring eyes of the lunging 
Turk, the sobbing scream as the bayonet ripped home." Here we 
see combat at its most personal. When a man bayonets a person 
who is facing him, the "sobbing scream," the blood shooting out 
of his mouth, and his eyes bulging out "like prawns" are all part 
of the memory the killer must carry forever. This is killing with 
edged weapons, and it is no wonder that it is so extraordinarily 
rare in modern warfare. 

We can understand then that the average soldier has an intense 
resistance toward bayoneting his fellow man, and that this act is 
surpassed only by the resistance to being bayoneted. The horror of 
being bayoneted is intense. Lord Moran said that during his long 
years of experience in the trenches of World War I, the one time 
"when I had a bayonet a few inches from my belly I was more 
frightened than by any shell." And Remarque, in All Quiet on the 
Western Front, tells of a German soldier who was caught while in 
possession of one of the saw-backed pioneer bayonets and was 
subsequently brutally killed and left as an example to his peers. 
Holmes tells us that Germans in both wars who were found with 
such weapons were so treated by captors who were horrified by 
the weapon and thought that it was deliberately designed to cause 
added suffering. 8 

Soldiers who would bravely face a hail of bullets will consis- 
tently flee before a determined individual with cold steel in his 
hands. Du Picq noted, "Each nation in Europe says: 'No one 
stands his ground before a bayonet charge made by us.' And all 
are right." A human wave of cold steel — be it pikes, spears, or 
bayonets — coming at one's position would be cause for under- 
standable concern on anyone's part, and as Holmes puts it "one 
side or the other usually recalls an urgent appointment elsewhere 
before bayonets cross." Very often neither side can bring itself to 

126 Killing and Physical Distance 

close with the enemy's bayonets, the advance falters, and the two 
parties begin to fire at one another from ridiculously short ranges. 
World War II veteran Fred Majdalany wrote that there was 
a lot of loose talk about the use of the bayonet. But relatively few 
soldiers could truthfully say that they had stuck a bayonet into a 
German. It is the threat of the bayonet and the sight of the point 
that usually does the work. The man almost invariably surrenders 
before the point is stuck into him. 

In the modern bayonet charge one side or the other usually breaks 
and runs before they meet, and then the psychological balance tips 
significantly. But this does not mean that bayonets and bayonet 
charges are ineffective. As Paddy Griffith points out: 

A great deal of misunderstanding has arisen from the fact that a 
"bayonet charge" could be highly effective even without any bayo- 
net actually touching an enemy soldier, let alone killing him. One 
hundred per cent of the casualties might be caused by musketry, 
yet the bayonet could still be the instrument of victory. This was 
because its purpose was not to kill soldiers but to disorganize 
regiments and win ground. It was the flourish of the bayonet and 
the determination in the eyes of its owner that on some occasions 
produced shock. 

Units with a history and tradition of close-combat, hand-to-hand 
killing inspire special dread and fear in an enemy by capitalizing 
upon this natural aversion to the "hate" manifested in this determi- 
nation to engage in close-range interpersonal aggression. The Brit- 
ish Gurkha battalions have been historically effective at this (as can 
be seen in the Argentinean's dread of them during the Falklands 
War), but any unit that puts a measure of faith in the bayonet has 
grasped a little of the natural dread with which an enemy responds 
to the possibility of facing an opponent who is determined to 
come within "skewering range." 

What these units (or at least their leaders) must understand is 
that actual skewering almost never happens; but the powerful human 
revulsion to the threat of such activity, when a soldier is confronted 
with superior posturing represented by a willingness or at least a 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range 127 

reputation for participation in close-range killing, has a devastating 
effect upon the enemy's morale. 

Back Stabbing and the Chase Instinct 

Combat at close quarters does not exist. At close quarters occurs 
the ancient carnage when one force strikes the other in the back. 

— Ardant du Picq 
Battle Studies 

It is when the bayonet charge has forced one side's soldiers to turn 
their backs and flee that the killing truly begins, and at some 
visceral level the soldier intuitively understands this and is very, 
very frightened when he has to turn his back to the enemy. Griffith 
dwells on this fear of retreating: "Perhaps this fear of retreat [in 
the face of the enemy] was linked to a horror of turning one's 
back on the threat. ... A type of reverse ostrich syndrome may 
have applied, whereby the danger was bearable only while the 
men continued to watch it." And in his superb study of the 
American Civil War, Griffith also notes many instances in which 
the most effective firing and killing occurred when the enemy had 
begun to flee the field. 

I believe that there are two factors in play in this increased 
killing of an enemy whose back is turned, and of the resultant fear 
of turning one's back to the enemy. The first factor is the concept 
of a chase instinct. A lifetime of working with and training dogs 
has taught me that the worst thing you can ever do is run from 
an animal. I have never yet met a dog I could not face down or 
at least incapacitate with a kick as it charged, but I have always 
known both instinctively and rationally that if I were to turn and 
run I should be in great danger. There is a chase instinct in most 
animals that will cause even a well-trained and nonaggressive dog 
to instinctively chase and pull down anything that runs. As long 
as your back is turned you are in danger. In the same way, there 
appears to be a chase instinct in man that permits him to kill a 
fleeing enemy. 

The second factor that enables killing from behind is a process 
in which close proximity on the physical distance spectrum can 

128 Killing and Physical Distance 

be negated when the face cannot be seen. The essence of the 
whole physical distance spectrum may simply revolve around the 
degree to which the killer can see the face of the victim. There 
appears to be a kind of intuitive understanding of this process in 
our cultural image of back shooting and back stabbing as cowardly 
acts, and it seems that soldiers intuitively understand that when 
they turn their backs, they are more apt to be killed by the enemy. 

This same enabling process explains why Nazi, Communist, 
and gangland executions are traditionally conducted with a bullet 
in the back of the head, and why individuals being executed by 
hanging or firing squad are blindfolded or hooded. And we know 
from Miron and Goldstein's 1979 research that the risk of death 
for a kidnap victim is much greater if the victim is hooded. In 
each of these instances the presence of the hood or blindfold 
ensures that the execution is completed and serves to protect the 
mental health of the executioners. Not having to look at the face 
of the victim provides a form of psychological distance that enables 
the execution party and assists in their subsequent denial and the 
rationalization and acceptance of having killed a fellow human 

The eyes are the window of the soul, and if one does not have 
to look into the eyes when killing, it is much easier to deny the 
humanity of the victim. The eyes bulging out "like prawns" and 
blood shooting out of the mouth are not seen. The victim remains 
faceless, and one never needs to know one's victim as a person. 
And the price most killers have to pay for a close-range kill — the 
memory of the "face terrible, twisted in pain and hate, yes such 
hate" — this price need never be paid if we can simply avoid 
looking at our victim's face. 

In combat the impact of back stabbing and the chase instinct 
can be observed in casualty rates, which increase significantly after 
the enemy forces have turned their backs and begun to flee. 
Clausewitz and du Picq both expound at length on the fact that 
the vast majority of casualties in historical battles were inflicted 
upon the losing side during the pursuit that followed the victory. 
In this vein Ardant du Picq holds out the example of Alexander 

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range 129 

the Great, whose forces, during all his years of warfare, lost fewer 
than seven hundred men "to the sword." They suffered so few 
casualties simply because they never lost a battle and therefore only 
had to endure the very, very minor casualties inflicted by reluctant 
combatants in close combat and never had to suffer the very 
significant losses associated with being pursued by a victorious 

Knife Range 

As we bring the physical distance spectrum down to its culmination 
point we must recognize that killing with a knife is significantly 
more difficult than killing with the bayonet affixed to the end of 
a rifle. Many knife kills appear to be of the commando nature, in 
which someone slips up on a victim and kills him from behind. 
These kills, like all kills from behind, are less traumatic than a kill 
from the front, since the face and all its messages and contortions 
are not seen. But what is felt are the bucking and shuddering of 
the victim's body and the warm sticky blood gushing out, and 
what is heard is the the final breath hissing out. 

The U.S. Army, along with armies in many other nations, trains 
its Rangers and Green Berets to execute a knife kill from the rear 
by plunging the knife through the lower back and into the kidney. 
Such a blow is so remarkably painful that its effect is to completely 
paralyze the victim as he quickly dies, resulting in an extremely 
silent kill. 

This kidney strike is contrary to the natural inclination of most 
soldiers, who — if they have thought about the matter at all — 
would prefer to slit the throat while holding a hand over the 
victim's mouth. This option, though psychologically and culturally 
more desirable (it is a slashing rather than a thrusting blow), has 
far less potential for silence, since an improperly slit throat is capable 
of making considerable noise and holding a hand over someone's 
mouth is not always an easy thing to do. The victim also has a 
capacity to bite, and a marine gunnery sergeant who is the USMC's 
proponent agent for hand-to-hand-combat tells me that several 
individuals have told him of cutting their own hand while trying 

130 Killing and Physical Distance 

to cut the enemy's throat in the dark. But here again we see the 
natural preference for a slashing blow over a more effective thrust- 
ing or penetrating blow. 

Holmes tells us that the French in World War II preferred knives 
and daggers for close-in work, but Keegan's findings of the singular 
absence of such wounds would indicate that few of these knives 
were ever used. Indeed, narratives of incidents in which individuals 
used a knife in modern combat are extremely rare, and knife 
kills other than the silencing of sentries from behind are almost 
unheard of. 

The one personal narrative of a knife kill that I have been able 
to obtain as a result of my interviews is from a man who had been 
an infantryman in the Pacific during World War II. He had many 
personal kills that he was willing to discuss, but it was his one kill 
with a knife that caused him to have nightmares long after the 
war was over. An enemy soldier had slipped into his foxhole one 
night, and during the process of a hand-to-hand struggle he pinned 
down the smaller Japanese soldier and slit his throat. The horror 
associated with pinning the man down and feeling him struggle 
and watching him bleed to death is something that he can barely 
tolerate to this very day. 

Chapter Six 

Killing at Hand-to-Hand-Combat Range 

In modern battle, which is delivered with combatants so far apart, 
man has come to have a horror of man. He comes to hand-to- 
hand fighting only to defend his body or if forced to it. 

— Ardant du Picq 
Battle Studies 

Hand-to-Hand-Combat Range 

At hand-to-hand-combat range the instinctive resistance to killing 
becomes strongest. While some who have studied the subject claim 
that man is the only higher-order species that does not have an 
instinctive resistance to killing his own species, its existence is 
recognized by almost any high-level karate practitioner. 

An obvious method of killing an opponent involves a crushing 
blow to the throat. In movie combat we often see one individual 
grab another by the throat and attempt to choke him. And Holly- 
wood heroes give the enemy a good old punch in the jaw. In 
both instances a blow to the throat (with the hand held in various 
prescribed shapes) would be a vastly superior form of disabling or 
killing the foe, yet it is not a natural act; it is a repellent one. 

The single most effective and mechanically easiest way to inflict 
significant damage on a human being with one's hand is to punch 
a thumb through his eye and on into the brain, subsequently 

132 Killing and Physical Distance 

stirring the intruding digit around inside the skull, cocking it off 
toward the side, and forcefully pulling the eye and other matter 
out with the thumb. 

One karate instructor trains his high-level students in this killing 
technique by having them practice punching their thumbs into 
oranges held or taped over the eye socket of an opponent. As we 
will observe when we study the process by which the U.S. Army 
raised its firing rates from 15 to 20 percent in World War II to 
90 to 95 percent in Vietnam, this procedure of precisely rehearsing 
and mimicking a killing action is an excellent way of ensuring that 
the individual is capable of performing the act in combat. 

In the case of the orange held over the victim's eye, the process 
is made even more realistic by having the victim scream, twitch, 
and jerk as the killer punches his thumb to the hilt into the orange 
and then rips it back out. Few individuals can walk away from 
their first such rehearsal without being badly shaken and disturbed 
by the action they have just mimicked. The fact that they are 
overcoming some form of natural resistance is obvious. 

Tracy Arnold, an actress in the X-rated (for violence) movie 
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, passed out twice during the filming 
of a scene in which her character was portrayed stabbing a man 
in the eye with a rat-tailed comb. This is a professional actress. 
She can portray killing, lying, and sex on the screen with relative 
ease, but even the pretense of stabbing someone in the eye seems 
to have touched a resistance so powerful and deep-seated that her 
body and emotions — the tools of the professional actress — liter- 
ally refused to cooperate. In fact, I cannot find any references to 
anyone in the history of human combat having ever used this 
simple technique. Indeed, it is almost too painful to think of it. 

Man has a tremendous resistance to killing efFectively with his 
bare hands. When man first picked up a club or a rock and killed 
his fellow man, he gained more than mechanical energy and me- 
chanical leverage. He also gained psychological energy and psycho- 
logical leverage that was every bit as necessary in the killing process. 
In some distant part of man's past he acquired this ability. Two 
major religious works, the Bible and the Torah, both speak of 

Killing at Hand-to-Hand Combat Range 133 

partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, 
and one of its first uses was Cain's overcoming his instinctive 
resistance in order to kill his brother, Abel. He probably did so 
not with his bare hands, but with an application of mechanical 
and psychological leverage not available to any other creature on 
the face of the earth. 9 

Chapter Seven 

Killing at Sexual Range: "The Primal Aggression, 
the Release, and the Orgasmic Discharge" 

One night as a young lieutenant on a long deployment to the 
Arctic, I sat in our little Officer/Senior NCO Club nursing a beer, 
while several old sergeants became quite drunk. One old Vietnam 

vet hit on a popular theme during the discussion and said, "F 

Jane Fonda." 

Another old sergeant vet who was sitting next to me was roused 

to respond by saying, "F Jane Fonda? Huh! Skull-f Jane 

Fonda! Pop an eyeball out and skull-f the bitch." 

This macabre concept of combining sex with death was so 
offensive that even the hardened veterans around the speaker were 
momentarily shocked. Yet the procreative act and the destructive 
act are inextricably interlinked. Much of the attraction to the 
killing process, and much of the resistance to close-in killing, 
revolves around the vicious side of ourselves that would pervert 
sex in such a manner that we can conceive of such things. 

At a surface level, the link between sex and aggression is obvious 
and not so blatantly offensive. The most powerful stag, stallion, 
ram, male lion, or gorrilla wins the harem; lesser or younger males 
remain only if they are subservient. Much has been made of the 
relationship between male sexuality and the power of motorcycles 

Killing at Sexual Range 135 

(1,200 cc of power throbbing between your legs) and muscle cars. 
The continuing popularity of magazines in which motorcycles and 
cars are displayed along with scantily clad women in provocative 
positions make this relationship clear. 

This kind of sex-power linkage also exists in the gun world. 
A video recently advertised in gun magazines, Sexy Girls and Sexy 
Guns, taps this same vein. "You've got to see this tape to believe 
it," says the ad. "14 outrageous sexy girls in string bikinis and 
high heels blasting away with the sexiest full auto machine guns 
ever produced." 

The psychological state that is satisfied by Sexy Girls and Sexy 
Guns is not widely shared among gun aficionados and is often 
viewed with considerable scorn. One editorial comment from a 
magazine that advertised these movies reveals a perceptive under- 
standing of the nature of this kind of "full autoeroticism and 
'Debbie Does the Paris Arms Show' pap": 

You may have seen the rash of mindless "machine-gun videos" 
that dish out a bilgy froth of bikinis, boobs and burp guns — neither 
instruction nor entertainment, evidently marketed to exploit a 
rather narrow spectrum of psychoses which hopes to see pendulous 
mammillae caught in a closing breach. While these video bikinis 
might have satisfied the Freudian hostilities of a disturbed few, 
there has been a need for legitimate orientation-instruction machine 
gun videos for those who properly regard these weapons as indis- 
pensable tools of respectable trades. 

— D. McLean 

Yet, in reality, our Sexy Girb and Sexy Guns video is only a little 
removed from the not-so-subliminal message of virility implied 
in the familiar image of a barely clad woman clinging to James 
Bond as he coolly brandishes a pistol. 10 

Killing as Sex . . . 

The linkage between sex and killing becomes unpleasandy apparent 
when we enter the realm of warfare. Many societies have long 

136 Killing and Physical Distance 

recognized the existence of this twisted region in which battle, 
like sex, is a milestone in adolescent masculinity. Yet the sexual 
aspects of killing continue beyond the region in which both are 
thought to be rites of manhood and into the area in which killing 
becomes like sex and sex like killing. 

A British paratrooper who served in the Falklands told Holmes 
that one particular attack was "the most exciting thing since getting 
my leg across." One American soldier compared the killings at 
My Lai to the closely linked guilt and satisfaction that accom- 
pany masturbation. 

The Israeli military psychologist Ben Shalit touched on this 
relationship when he described some of his observations of combat: 

On my right was mounted a heavy machine gun. The gunner 
(normally the cook) was firing away with what I can only describe 
as a beatific smile on his face. He was exhilarated by the squeezing 
of the trigger, the hammering of the gun, and the flight of his 
tracers rushing out into the dark shore. It struck me then (and 
was confirmed by him and many others later) that squeezing the 
trigger — releasing a hail of bullets — gives enormous pleasure and 
satisfaction. These are the pleasures of combat, not in terms of 
the intellectual planning — of the tactical and strategic chess 
game — but of the primal aggression, the release, and the or- 
gasmic discharge. 

Shalit addresses this subject through symbolic language, but one 
Vietnam veteran was not nearly so subtle when he told Mark 
Baker that "a gun is power. To some people carrying a gun was 
like having a permanent hard-on. It was a pure sexual trip every 
time you got to pull the trigger." Many men who have carried and 
fired a gun — especially a full automatic weapon — must confess in 
their hearts that the power and pleasure of explosively spewing a 
stream of bullets is akin to the emotions felt when explosively 
spewing a stream of semen. 

One of the veterans I interviewed had six tours in Vietnam. He 
stated that ultimately he "had to get out of there" because he was 
becoming consumed by what was happening to him. "Killing can 

Killing at Sexual Range 137 

be like sex," he told me, "and you can get carried away with it; 
it can consume you just like sex can." 

. . . And Sex as Killing 

And just as the highly personal, close-up, one-on-one, intense 
experience of killing can be like sex, so can sex be like killing. 
Glenn Gray speaks of this relationship. "To be sure," he says, 

the sexual partner is not actually destroyed in the encounter, merely 
overthrown. And the psychological aftereffects of sexual lust are 
different from those of battle lusts. These differences, however, do 
not alter the fact that the passions have a common source and affect 
their victims in the same way while they are in their grip. 

The concept of sex as a process of domination and defeat is closely 
related to the lust for rape and the trauma associated with the rape 
victim. Thrusting the sexual appendage (the penis) deep into the 
body of the victim can be perversely linked to thrusting the killing 
appendage (a bayonet or knife) deep into the body of the victim. 
This process can be seen in pornographic movies in which the 
sexual act is twisted, such that the male ejaculates — or "shoots 
his wad" — into a female's face. The grip of a firer on the pistol 
grip of a gun is much like the grip on an erect penis, and holding 
the penis in this fashion while ejaculating into the victim's face is 
at some level an act of domination and symbolic destruction. The 
culmination of this intertwining of sex and death can be seen in 
snuff films, in which a victim is raped and then murdered on film. 

The force of darkness and destruction within us is balanced with 
a force of light and love for our fellow man. These forces struggle 
and strive within the heart of each of us. To ignore one is to ignore 
the other. We cannot know the light if we do not acknowledge the 
dark. We cannot know life if we do not acknowledge death. The 
link between sex and war and the process of denial in both fields 
are well represented by Richard Heckler's observation that "it is 
in the mythological marriage of Ares [the god of war] and Aphro- 
dite [the god of sex] that Harmonia is born." 


An Anatomy of Killing: 
All Factors Considered 

The starting point for the understanding of war is the understanding 
of human nature. 

— S. L. A. Marshall 
Men Against Fire 

Chapter One 

The Demands of Authority: 
Milgram and the Military 

Riflemen miss if orders sound unsure; 
They only are secure who seem secure . . . 

— Kingsley Amis 
"The Masters" 

Dr. Stanley Milgram's famous studies at Yale University on obedi- 
ence and aggression found that in a controlled laboratory environ- 
ment more than 65 percent of his subjects could be readily manipu- 
lated into inflicting a (seemingly) lethal electrical charge on a total 
stranger. The subjects sincerely believed that they were causing 
great physical pain, but despite their victim's pitiful pleas for them 
to stop, 65 percent continued to obey orders, increase the voltage, 
and inflict the shocks until long after the screams stopped and there 
could be little doubt that their victim was dead. 

Prior to beginning his experiments Milgram asked a group of 
psychiatrists and psychologists to predict how many of his subjects 
would use the maximum voltage on their victims. They estimated 
that a fraction of 1 percent of the subjects would do so. They, 
like most people, really didn't have a clue — until Milgram taught 
us this lesson about ourselves. 


An Anatomy of Killing 

Demands of Authority 


— Proximity of Authority — 
■•—Respect for Authority 

' Intensity of Demand for Kill 
1 Legitimacy of Authority 

Group Absolution 

of Killer 

••—Identification with Group—' 
Proximity of Group 

Total Attractiveness 
Distance of Victim 

— Physical Distance — ►■ 

— Emotional Distance -»• 

• Cultural 

• Moral 

• Social 

• Mechanical 

1 Intensity of Support for Kill 
' Number in Immediate Group 
■ Legitimacy of Group 

• Training/Conditioning 

• Recent Experiences 

• Temperament 

• Relevance of 
Available Strategies 

• Relevance of Victim 

• Payoff 
-Killer's Gain 
-Enemy's Loss 

Freud warned us to "never underestimate the power of the 
need to obey," and this research by Milgram (which has since 
been replicated many times in half a dozen different countries) 
validates Freud's intuitive understanding of human nature. Even 
when the trappings of authority are no more than a white lab coat 
and a clipboard, this is the kind of response that Milgram was able 
to elicit: 

I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the 
laboratory smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes he was re- 
duced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly ap- 
proaching a point of nervous collapse. ... At one point he pushed 
his fist into his forehead and muttered: "Oh God, let's stop it." 
And yet he continued to respond to every word of the experimenter 
and obeyed to the end. 

The Demands of Authority 


Demands of 

■ Proximity of Authority - 
-Respect for Authority - 

Intensity of Demand for Kill 
Legitimacy of Authority 

If this kind of obedience could be obtained with a lab coat and a 
clipboard by an authority figure who has been known for only a 
few minutes, how much more would the trappings of military 
authority and months of bonding accomplish? 

The Demands of Authority 

The mass needs, and we give it, leaders who have the firmness 
and decision of command proceeding from habit and an entire 
faith in their unquestionable right to command as established by 
tradition, law and society. 

— Ardant du Picq 
Battle Studies 

Someone who has not studied the matter would underestimate 
the influence of leadership in enabling killing on the battlefield, 
but those who have been there know better. A 1973 study by 
Kranss, Kaplan, and Kranss investigated the factors that make a 
soldier fire. They found that the individuals who had no combat 
experience assumed that "being fired upon" would be the critical 
factor in making them fire. However, veterans fisted "being told 
to fire" as the most critical factor. 

More than a century ago, Ardant du Picq found the same thing 
in his study based on a survey of military officers. He noted one 

144 An Anatomy of Killing 

incident during the Crimean War in which, during heavy fighting, 
two detachments of soldiers suddenly met unexpectedly face-to- 
face, at "ten paces." They "stopped thunderstruck. Then, forget- 
ting their rifles, threw stones and withdrew." The reason for this 
behavior, according to du Picq, was that "neither of the two 
groups had a decided leader." 

Authority Factors 

But it is more complex than the simple influence of orders by a 
leader. There are many factors in the relationship between the 
potential killer and the authority that influence the decision to kill. 
In Milgram's experiments the demands of authority were repre- 
sented by an individual with a clipboard and a white lab coat. This 
authority figure stood immediately behind the individual who was 
inflicting shocks and directed that he increase the voltage each 
time the victim answered a question incorrecdy. When the author- 
ity figure was not personally present but called over a phone, the 
number of subjects who were willing to inflict the maximum 
shock dropped sharply. This process can be generalized to combat 
circumstances and "operationalized" into a number of subfactors: 
proximity of the authority figure, respect for the authority figure, 
intensity of the authority figure's demands, and the authority fig- 
ure's legitimacy. 

• Proximity of the authority figure to the subject. Marshall noted many 
specific World War II incidents in which almost all soldiers would 
fire their weapons while their leaders observed and encouraged 
them in a combat situation, but when the leaders left, the firing 
rate immediately dropped to 15 to 20 percent. 

• Killer's subjective respect for the authority figure. To be truly effective, 
soldiers must bond to their leader just as they must bond to their 
group. Shalit notes a 1973 Israeli study that shows that the primary 
factor in ensuring the will to fight is identification with the direct 
commanding officer. Compared with an established and respected 
leader, an unknown or discredited leader has much less chance 
of gaining compliance from soldiers in combat. 

The Demands of Authority 145 

• Intensity of the authority figure's demands for killing behavior. The 
leader's mere presence is not always sufficient to ensure killing 
activity. The leader must also communicate a clear expectancy of 
killing behavior. When he does, the influence can be enormous. 
When Lieutenant Calley first ordered his men to kill a group of 
women and children in the village of My Lai, he said, "You 
know what to do with them," and left. When he came back he 
asked, "Why haven't you killed them?" The soldier he con- 
fronted said, "I didn't think you wanted us to kill them." "No," 
Calley responded, "I want them dead," and proceeded to fire at 
them himself. Only then was he able to get his soldiers to start 
shooting in this extraordinary circumstance in which the soldiers' 
resistance to killing was, understandably, very high. 

• Legitimacy of the authority figure's authority and demands. Leaders 
with legitimate, societally sanctioned authority have greater influ- 
ence on their soldiers; and legitimate, lawful demands are more 
likely to be obeyed than illegal or unanticipated demands. Gang 
leaders and mercenary commanders have to carefully work 
around their shortcomings in this area, but military officers (with 
their trappings of power and the legitimate authority of their nation 
behind them) have tremendous potential to cause their soldiers to 
overcome individual resistance and reluctance in combat. 

The Centurion Factor: The Role of Obedience in 
Military History 

Many factors are at play on the battlefield, but one of the most 
powerful is the influence of leaders. This influence can be seen 
throughout history. In particular, the success of the Roman military 
machine can be seen in light of its mastery of leadership processes. 

The Romans pioneered the concepts of leadership development 
and the NCO corps as we know it, and when the professional 
Roman army went up against the Greek citizen-soldiers, leadership 
can be seen as a key factor in the Romans' success. 

Both sides had the political legitimacy of their nations and city- 
states behind them, but there was a real difference in the military 
legitimacy that these leaders probably had in the eyes of their 
soldiers. The Roman centurion was a professional leader who had 

146 An Anatomy of Killing 

the respect of his soldiers because he had come up through the 
ranks and had previously demonstrated his ability in combat. This 
kind of legitimacy is completely different from that associated with 
leadership in civilian life, and the Greek leader was primarily a 
civilian whose peacetime legitimacy was not easily transferred to 
the battlefield and was often tainted by the spoils system and the 
petty politics associated with the local village he had come from. 

In the Greek phalanx the leader at squad and platoon level was 
a spear-carrying member of the masses. The primary function of 
these leaders (as defined by their equipment and lack of mobility 
within the formation) was to participate in the killing. The Roman 
formation, on the other hand, had a series of mobile, highly trained, 
and carefully selected leaders whose primary job was not to kill 
but to stand behind their men and demand that they kill. 

Many factors led to the military supremacy that permitted the 
Romans to conquer the world. For example, their volleys of 
cleverly designed javelins provided physical distance in the killing 
process, and their training enabled the individual to use the point 
and overcame the natural resistance to thrusting. But most authori- 
ties agree that a key factor was the degree of professionalism in 
their small-unit leaders, combined with a formation that facilitated 
the influence of these leaders. 

The influence of an obedience-demanding leader can also be 
observed in many of the killing circumstances seen in this book. 
It was the command "That's gotta be Charlie, you asshole. . . . 
Blow their ass up and run" that spurred Steve Banko into killing 
a Vietcong soldier. For John Barry Freeman it was a pointed 
machine gun and the order "Shoot the man" that caused him to 
shoot one of his fellow mercenaries who had been condemned to 
death. And for Alan Stuart-Smyth the screamed order "KILL HIM, 
GODDAMMIT, KILL HIM, NOW!" was necessary to bring him 
to kill a man who was in the process of swinging the muzzle of 
a weapon toward him. 

In these and many other killing circumstances we can see that 
it was the demand for killing actions from a leader that was the 
decisive factor. Never underestimate the power of the need to 

The Demands of Authority 147 

"Our Blood and His Guts": The Price the Leader Pays 

In many combat situations the ultimate mechanism that leads to 
defeat is when the leader of a group can no longer bring himself 
to demand sacrifice by his men. One of Bill Mauldin's famous 
World War II cartoons shows Willie and Joe discussing General 
"Old Blood and Guts" Patton. "Yeah," says the weary, disheveled 
combat soldier, "our blood and his guts." Although intended as 
sarcasm, there is a profound truth in this statement, for often it is 
the soldiers' blood and the leader's guts that stave off defeat. And 
when the leader's guts or will to sacrifice his men gives out, then 
the force he is leading is defeated. 

This equation becomes particularly apparent in situations in 
which soldiers are cut off from higher authority. In these kinds of 
situations the leader is trapped with his men. He sees his soldiers 
dying, he sees the wounded suffering; there is no buffer of distance 
to enable any denial of the results of his actions. He has no contact 
with higher authority, and he knows that at any time he can end 
the horror by surrendering and that the decision is solely his to 
make. As each of his men is wounded or killed, their suffering 
hangs on his conscience, and he knows that it is he and he alone 
who is making it continue. He and his will to accept the suffering 
of his men are all that keep the battle going. At some point he 
can no longer bring himself to muster the will to fight, and with 
one short sentence the horror is ended. 

Some leaders choose to fight to their deaths, taking their men 
with them in a blaze of glory. In many ways it is easier for the 
leader if he can die quickly and cleanly with his men and need 
never live with what he has done. One of the more striking of 
such situations is that of Major James Devereux, the commander 
of the U.S. Marines defending Wake Island. The small marine 
detachment on Wake held out against overwhelming Japanese 
forces from December 8 to December 22, 1941. The last message 
sent out before Devereux and his men were overwhelmed was 
received by radio telegraphy and said simply: s...e...n...d.... 

M...O...R. ..E....J. ..A...P...S... 

But the price for the leader who has lived through such a 
situation is high. He must answer to the widows and the orphans 

148 An Anatomy of Killing 

of his men, and he must live forevermore with what he has done 
to those who entrusted their lives to his care. When I interview 
combatants, many tell of remorse and anguish that they have never 
told anyone of before. But I have not yet had any success at getting 
a leader to confront his emotions revolving around the soldiers 
who have died in combat as a result of his orders. In interviews, 
such men work around reservoirs of guilt and denial that appear 
to be buried too deeply to be tapped, and perhaps this is for the best. 

The Lost Battalion of World War I is a famous example of a 
unit that was sustained by its leader's will. This unit, a battalion 
of the 77th Division, was cut off and surrounded by Germans 
during an attack. They continued to fight for days. They ran out 
of food, water, and ammunition. The survivors were surrounded 
by friends and comrades suffering from horrible wounds that could 
not receive medical attention until they surrendered. The Germans 
brought up flamethrowers and tried to burn them out. Still their 
commander would not surrender. 

They were not an elite or specially trained unit. They were 
only a composite infantry battalion made up of citizen-soldiers in 
a National Guard Division. Yet they performed a feat that will 
shine forever in the annals of military glory. 

All the survivors gave full credit for their achievement to the 
incredible fortitude of their battalion commander, Major C. W. 
Whitdesey, who refused to surrender and constandy encouraged 
the dwindling survivors of his battalion to fight on. After five 
days their battalion was rescued. Major Whittlesey was given the 
Congressional Medal of Honor. Many people know this story. 
What they don't know is that Whitdesey committed suicide shortly 
after the war. 

Chapter Two 

Group Absolution: "The Individual Is Not a Killer, 
but the Group Is" 

Disintegration of a combat unit . . . usually occurs at the 50% 
casualty point, and is marked by increasing numbers of individuals 
refusing to kill in combat. . . . Motivation and will to kill the enemy 
has evaporated along with their peers and comrades. 

— Peter Watson 
War on the Mind 

A tremendous volume of research indicates that the primary factor 
that motivates a soldier to do the things that no sane man wants 
to do in combat (that is, killing and dying) is not the force of self- 
preservation but a powerful sense of accountability to his comrades 
on the batdefield. Richard Gabriel notes that "in military writings 
on unit cohesion, one consistently finds the assertion that the bonds 
combat soldiers form with one another are stronger than the bonds 
most men have with their wives." The defeat of even the most 
elite group is usually achieved when so many casualties have been 
inflicted (usually somewhere around the 50 percent point) that the 
group slips into a form of mass depression and apathy. Dinter 
points out that "The integration of the individual in the group is 
so strong sometimes that the group's destruction, e.g. by force or 


An Anatomy of Killing 


-Identification with Group- 
Proximity of Group — 

' Intensity of Support for Kill 
' Number in Immediate Group 
' Legitimacy of Group 

captivity, may lead to depression and subsequent suicide." Among 
the Japanese in World War II this manifested itself in mass suicide. 
In most historical groups it results in the group suicide of surrender. 

Among men who are bonded together so intensely, there is a 
powerful process of peer pressure in which the individual cares so 
deeply about his comrades and what they think about him that 
he would rather die than let them down. A U.S. Marine Corps 
Vietnam vet interviewed by Gwynne Dyer communicated this 
process clearly when he said that "your first instinct, regardless of 
all your training, is to live. . . . But you can't turn around and run 
the other way. Peer pressure, you know?" Dyer calls this "a special 
kind of love that has nothing to do with sex or idealism," and 
Ardant du Picq referred to it as "mutual surveillance" and consid- 
ered it to be the predominant psychological factor on the battlefield. 

Marshall noted that a single soldier falling back from a broken 
and retreating unit will be of little value if pressed into service in 
another unit. But if a pair of soldiers or the remnants of a squad 
or platoon are put to use, they can generally be counted upon to 
fight well. The difference in these two situations is the degree to 
which the soldiers have bonded or developed a sense of account- 
ability to the small number of men they will be fighting with — 
which is distinctly different from the more generalized cohesion 
of the army as a whole. If the individual is bonded with his 

Group Absolution 151 

comrades, and if he is with "his" group, then the probability that 
the individual will participate in killing is significantly increased. 
But if those factors are absent, the probability that the individual 
will be an active participant in combat is quite low. 

Du Picq sums this matter up when he says, "Four brave men 
who do not know each other will not dare to attack a Hon. Four 
less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability 
and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely. There," 
says du Picq, "is the science of the organization of armies in 
a nutshell." 

Anonymity and Group Absolution 

In addition to creating a sense of accountability, groups also enable 
killing through developing in their members a sense of anonymity 
that contributes further to violence. In some circumstances this 
process of group anonymity seems to facilitate a kind of atavistic 
killing hysteria that can also be seen in the animal kingdom. Kruck's 
1972 research describes scenes from the animal kingdom that show 
that senseless and wanton killing does occur. These include the 
slaughter of gazelles by hyenas, in quantities way beyond their 
need or capacity to eat, or the destruction of gulls that could not 
fly on a stormy night and thus were "sitting ducks" for foxes that 
proceed to kill them beyond any possible need for food. Shalit 
points out that "such senseless violence in the animal world — as 
well as most of the violence in the human domain — is shown 
by groups rather than by individuals." 

Konrad Lorenz tells us that "man is not a killer, but the group 
is." Shalit demonstrates a profound understanding of this process 
and has researched it extensively: 

All crowding has an intensifying effect. If aggression exists, it will 
become more so as a result of crowding; if joy exists, it will become 
intensified by the crowd. It has been shown by some studies . . . 
that a mirror in front of an aggressor tends to increase his aggres- 
sion — if he was disposed to be aggressive. However, if this individ- 
ual were not so disposed, the effect of the mirror would be to 
further enhance his nonaggressive tendencies. The effect of the 

152 An Anatomy of Killing 

crowd seems to be much like a mirror, reflecting each individual's 
behavior in those around him and thus intensifying the existing 
pattern of behavior. 

Psychologists have long understood that a diffusion of responsibility 
can be caused by the anonymity created in a crowd. It has been 
demonstrated in literally dozens of studies that bystanders will be 
less likely to interfere in a situation in direct relationship to the 
numbers who are witnessing the circumstance. Thus, in large 
crowds, horrendous crimes can occur but the likelihood of a by- 
stander interfering is very low. However, if the bystander is alone 
and is faced with a circumstance in which there is no one else to 
diffuse the responsibility to, then the probability of intervention 
is very high. In the same way groups can provide a diffusion of 
responsibility that will enable individuals in mobs and soldiers in 
military units to commit acts that they would never dream of 
doing as individuals, acts such as lynching someone because of the 
color of his skin or shooting someone because of the color of 
his uniform. 

Death in the Crowd: Accountability and Anonymity 
on the Battlefield 

The influence of groups on killing occurs through a strange and 
powerful interaction of accountability and anonymity. Although 
at first glance the influence of these two factors would seem to be 
paradoxical, in actuality they interact in such a manner as to magnify 
and amplify each other in order to enable violence. 

Police are aware of these accountability and anonymity processes 
and are trained to unhinge them by calling individuals within a 
group by name whenever possible. Doing so causes the people so 
named to reduce their identification with the group and begin to 
think of themselves as individuals with personal accountability. 
This inhibits violence by limiting the individuals' sense of account- 
ability to the group and negating their sense of anonymity. 

Among groups in combat, this accountability (to one's friends) 
and anonymity (to reduce one's sense of personal responsibility 
for killing) combine to play a significant role in enabling killing. 

Group Absolution 153 

As we have seen so far in this study, killing another human being 
is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. But if a soldier feels he 
is letting his friends down if he doesn't kill, and if he can get 
others to share in the killing process (thus diffusing his personal 
responsibility by giving each individual a slice of the guilt), then 
killing can be easier. In general, the more members in the group, 
the more psychologically bonded the group, and the more the 
group is in close proximity, the more powerful the enabling can be. 
Still, just the presence of a group in combat does not guarantee 
aggression. (It could be a group of pacifists, in which case pacifism 
might be enabled by the group!) The individual must identify with 
and be bonded with a group that has a legitimate demand for 
killing. And he must be with or close to the group for it to influence 
his behavior. 

Chariot, Phalanx, Cannon, and Machine Gun: The Role of 
Groups in Military History 

These processes can be seen throughout military history. For ex- 
ample, military historians have often wondered why the chariot 
dominated military history for so long. Tactically, economically, 
and mechanically it was not a cost-effective instrument on the 
battlefield, yet for many centuries it was the king of battle. But if 
we examine the psychological leverage provided by the chariot to 
enable killing on the battlefield, we soon realize that the chariot 
was successful because it was the first crew-served weapon. 

Several factors were at play here — the bow as a distance 
weapon, the social distance created by the archers' having come 
from the nobility, and the psychological distance created by using 
the chariot in pursuit and shooting men in the back — but the 
key issue is that the chariot crew traditionally consisted of two 
men: a driver and an archer. And this was all that was needed to 
provide the same accountability and anonymity in close-proximity 
groups that in World War II permitted nearly 100 percent of crew- 
served weapons (such as machine guns) to fire while only 15 to 
20 percent of the riflemen fired. 

The chariot was defeated by the phalanx, which succeeded by 
turning the whole formation into a massive crew-served weapon. 

154 An Anatomy of Killing 

Although he did not have the designated leaders of the later Roman 
formations, each man in the phalanx was under a powerful mutual 
surveillance system, and in the charge it would be hard to fail to 
strike home without having others notice that your spear had been 
raised or dropped at the critical moment. And, of course, in addition 
to this accountability system the closely packed phalanx provided 
a high degree of mob anonymity. 

For nearly half a millennium the Romans' professional military 
(with, among other things, their superior application of leadership) 
eclipsed the phalanx in the Western way of war. But the phalanx's 
application of group processes was so simple and so effective that 
during the period of more than a thousand years between the fall 
of the Roman Empire and the full integration of gunpowder, the 
phalanx and the pike ruled infantry tactics. 

And when gunpowder was introduced, it was the crew-served 
cannon, later augmented by the machine gun, that did most of the 
killing. Gustavus Adolphus revolutionized warfare by introducing a 
small three-pound cannon that was pulled around by each platoon, 
thus becoming the first platoon crew-served weapon and presaging 
the platoon machine guns of today. Napoleon, an artilleryman, 
recognized the role of the artillery (often firing grapeshot at very 
close ranges), which was the real killer on the batdefield, and 
throughout his years he consistently ensured that he had greater 
numbers of artillery than any of his opponents. During World War 
I the machine gun was introduced and termed the "distilled essence 
of the infantry," but it really was the continuation of the cannon, 
as artillery became an indirect-fire weapon (shooting over the 
soldiers' heads from miles back), and the machine gun replaced 
the cannon in the direct-fire, mid-range role. 

Britain's World War I Machine Gun Corps Monument, next 
to the Wellington Monument in London, is a statue of a young 
David, inscribed with a Bible verse that exemplifies the meaning 
of the machine gun in that terrible war that sucked so much of 
the marrow from the bones of that great nation: 

Sol has slain his thousands 

And David has slain his tens of thousands. 

Group Absolution 155 

"They Were Killing My Friends": Groups on the 
Modern Battlefield 

The influence of groups can be seen clearly when we closely 
examine the killing case studies outlined throughout this book. 
Note the absence of group influence in many of the situations in 
which combatants chose not to kill each other. For example, in 
the section "Killing and Physical Distance," Captain Willis was 
alone when he was suddenly confronted with a single North Viet- 
namese soldier. He "vigorously shook his head" and initiated "a 
truce, cease-fire, gentleman's agreement or a deal," after which 
the enemy soldier "sank back into the darkness and Willis stum- 
bled on." 

Again, at the beginning of the section "Killing and the Existence 
of Resistance," Michael Kathman, a tunnel rat crawling alone in 
a Vietcong tunnel, was alone when he switched on the light and 
suddenly found "not more than 15 feet away ... a [lone] Viet 
Cong eating a handful of rice. . . . After a moment, he put his 
pouch of rice on the floor of the tunnel beside him, turned his 
back to me and slowly started crawling away." Kathman, in turn, 
switched off his flashlight and slipped away in the other direction. 

And as you read these case studies note also the presence and 
influence of groups in most situations in which soldiers do elect 
to kill. The classic example is Audie Murphy, the most decorated 
American soldier of World War II. He won the Medal of Honor 
by single-handedly taking on a German infantry company. He 
fought alone, but when asked what motivated him to do this, he 
responded simply, "They were killing my friends." 

Chapter Three 

Emotional Distance: "To Me They Were Less 
than Animals" 

Increasing the distance between the [combatants] — whether by 
emphasizing their differences or by increasing the chain of responsi- 
bility between the aggressor and his victim allows for an increase 
in the degree of aggression. 

— Ben Shalit 

The Psychology of Conflict and Combat 

Cracks in the Veil of Denial 

One evening after giving a presentation on "The Price and Process 
of Killing" to a group of vets in New York, I was asked by a 
retired World War II veteran who had been in the audience if I 
could talk with him privately in the bar. After we were alone he 
said that there was something he had never told anyone about, 
something that, after hearing my presentation, he wanted to share 
with me. 

He had been an army officer in the South Pacific, and one night 
the Japanese launched an infiltration attack on his position. During 
the attack a Japanese soldier charged him. 

"I had my forty-five [-caliber pistol] in my hand," he said, "and 
the point of his bayonet was no further than you are from me 

Emotional Distance 157 

Total Distance 
from Victim 

Physical Distance - 

Emotional Distance- 

• Cultural 

• Moral 

• Social 

• Mechanical 

when I shot him. After everything had settled down I helped 
search his body, you know, for intelligence purposes, and I found 
a photograph." 

Then there was a long pause, and he continued. "It was a pic- 
ture of his wife, and these two beautiful children. Ever 
since" — and here tears began to roll down his cheeks, although 
his voice remained firm and steady — "I've been haunted by the 
thought of these two beautiful children growing up without their 
father, because I murdered their daddy. I'm not a young man 
anymore, and soon I'll have to answer to my Maker for what I 
have done." 1 

A year later, in a pub in England, I told a Vietnam veteran who 
is currently a colonel in the U.S. Army about this incident. As I 
told him about the photographs he said, "Oh, no. Don't tell me. 
There was an address on the back of the photo." 

"No," I replied. "At least he never mentioned it if there was." 

Later in the evening I got back around to asking why he would 
have thought there was an address on the photos, and he told me 
that he had had a similar experience in Vietnam, but his photos 
had addresses on the back of them. "And you know," he said, as 
his eyes lost focus and he slipped into that haunted, thousand-yard 
stare I've seen in so many vets when their minds and emotions 
return to the battlefield, "I've always meant to send those pho- 
tos back." 

158 An Anatomy of Killing 

Each of these men had attained the rank of colonel in the U.S. 
Army. Both are the distilled essence of all that is good and noble 
in their generation. And both of them have been haunted by 
simple photographs. But what those photographs represented was 
a crack in the veil of denial that makes war possible. 

The Social Obstacles to Emotional Distance 

The physical distance process has been addressed previously, but 
distance in war is not merely physical. There is also an emotional 
distance process that plays a vital part in overcoming the resistance 
to killing. Factors such as cultural distance, moral distance, social 
distance, and mechanical distance are just as effective as physical 
distance in permitting the killer to deny that he is killing a hu- 
man being. 

There was a popular and rather clever saying during the 1960s 
that asked, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" This is 
not quite as ludicrous a concept as it may seem on the surface. 
There is a constant danger on the battlefield that, in periods of 
extended close combat, the combatants will get to know and 
acknowledge one another as individuals and subsequently may 
refuse to kill each other. This danger and the process by which it 
can occur is poignantly represented by Henry Metelmann's account 
of his experiences as a German soldier on the Russian front during 
World War II. 

There was a lull in the battle, during which Metelmann saw 
two Russians coming out of their foxhole, 

and I walked over towards them . . . they introduced themselves 
. . . [and] offered me a cigarette and, as a non-smoker, I thought 
if they offer me a cigarette I'll smoke it. But it was horrible stuff. 
I coughed and later on my mates said "You made a horrible 
impression, standing there with those two Russians and coughing 
your head off." ... I talked to them and said it was all right to 
come closer to the foxhole, because there were three dead Russian 
soldiers lying there, and I, to my shame, had killed them. They 
wanted to get the [dog tags] off them, and the paybooks. ... I 
kind of helped them and we were all bending down and we found 

Emotional Distance 159 

some photos in one of the paybooks and they showed them to 
me: we all three stood up and looked at the photos. . . . We shook 
hands again, and one patted on my back and they walked away. 

Metelmann was called away to drive a half-track back to the field 
hospital. When he returned to the battlefield, over an hour later, 
he found that the Germans had overrun the Russian position. And 
although there were some of his friends killed, he found himself to 
be most concerned about what happened to "those two Russians." 

"Oh they got killed," they said. 

I said: "How did it happen?" 

"Oh, they didn't want to give in. Then we shouted at them to 
come out with their hands up and they did not, so one of us went 
over with a tank," he said, "and really got them, and silenced them 
that way." My feeling was very sad. I had met them on a very 
human basis, on a comradely basis. They called me comrade and 
at that moment, strange as it may seem, I was more sad that they 
had to die in this mad confrontation than my own mates and I 
still think sadly about it. 

This identification with one's victim is also reflected in the Stock- 
holm syndrome. Most people know of the Stockholm syndrome 
as a process in which the victim of a hostage situation comes to 
identify with the hostage taker, but it is actually more complex 
than that and occurs in three stages: 

• First the victim experiences an increase in association with the 
hostage taker. 

• Then the victim usually experiences a decrease in identification 
with the authorities who are dealing with the hostage taker. 

• Finally the hostage taker experiences an increase in identification 
and bonding with the victim. 

One of the more interesting of many such cases was the Moluccan 
train siege in Holland in 1975. In this instance the terrorists had 
already shot one hostage and then selected another for execution. 
This intended victim then asked permission to write a final note 
to his family, and his request was granted. He was a journalist, 

160 An Anatomy of Killing 

and he must have been a very good one, for he wrote such a 
heart-wrenching letter that, upon reading it, the terrorists took 
pity on him . . . and shot someone else instead. 

Sometimes this process can happen on a vast scale. Many times 
in World War I there were unofficial suspensions of hostilities that 
came about through the process of coming to know each other 
too well. During Christmas of 1914 British and German soldiers in 
many sectors met peacefully, exchanged presents, took photographs 
and even played soccer. Holmes notes that "in some areas the 
truce went on until well into the New Year, despite the High 
Command's insistence that it should be war as usual." 

Erich Fromm states that "there is good clinical evidence for the 
assumption that destructive aggression occurs, at least to a large 
degree, in conjunction with a momentary or chronic emotional 
withdrawal." The situations described above represent a break- 
down in the psychological distance that is a key method of re- 
moving one's sense of empathy and achieving this "emotional 
withdrawal." Again, some of the mechanisms that facilitate this 
process include: 

• Cultural distance, such as racial and ethnic differences, which 
permit the killer to dehumanize the victim 

• Moral distance, which takes into consideration the kind of intense 
belief in moral superiority and vengeful/ vigilante actions associ- 
ated with many civil wars 

• Social distance, which considers the impact of a lifetime of prac- 
tice in thinking of a particular class as less than human in a socially 
stratified environment 

• Mechanical distance, which includes the sterile Nintendo-game 
unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper 
sight, or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the 
killer to deny the humanity of his victim 

Cultural Distance: "Inferior Forms of Life" 

In the section "Killing in America," we will examine the method- 
ology a U.S. Navy psychiatrist developed to psychologically enable 
assassins for the U.S. Navy. This "formula" primarily involved 

Emotional Distance 161 

classical conditioning and systematic desensitization using violent 
movies, but it also integrated cultural distance processes in order 

to get the men to think of the potential enemies they will have 
to face as inferior forms of life [with films] biased to present the 
enemy as less than human: the stupidity of local customs is ridiculed, 
local personalities are presented as evil demigods. 

— quoted in Peter Watson, War on the Mind 

The Israeli research mentioned earlier indicates that the risk of 
death for a kidnap victim is much greater if the victim is hooded. 
Cultural distance is a form of emotional hooding that can work 
just as effectively. Shalit notes that "the nearer or more similar the 
victim of aggression is, the more we can identify with him." And 
the harder it is to kill him. 

This process also works the other way around. It is so much 
easier to kill someone if they look distinctly different from you. 
If your propaganda machine can convince your soldiers that their 
opponents are not really human but are "inferior forms of life," 
then their natural resistance to killing their own species will be 
reduced. Often the enemy's humanity is denied by referring to 
him as a "gook," "Kraut," or "Nip." In Vietnam this process was 
assisted by the "body count" mentality, in which we referred to 
and thought of the enemy as numbers. One Vietnam vet told me 
that this permitted him to think that killing the NVA and VC was 
like "stepping on ants." 

The greatest master of this in recent times may have been Adolf 
Hitler, with his myth of the Aryan master race: the Ubermensch, 
whose duty was to cleanse the world of the Untermensch. 

The adolescent soldier against whom such propaganda is directed 
is desperately trying to rationalize what he is being forced to do, 
and he is therefore predisposed to believe this nonsense. Once he 
begins to herd people like catde and then to slaughter them like 
cattle, he very quickly begins to think of them as cattle — or, if 
you will, Untermensch. 

According to Trevor Dupuy, the Germans, in all stages of 
World War II, consistently inflicted 50 percent more casualties on 

162 An Anatomy of Killing 

the Americans and British than were inflicted on them. And the 
Nazi leadership would probably be the first to tell you that it was 
this carefully nurtured belief in their racial and cultural superiority 
that enabled the soldiers to be so successful. (But, as we shall see 
in "Killing and Atrocities," this enabling also contained an entrap- 
ment that contributed greatly to the Nazis' ultimate defeat.) 

But the Nazis are hardly the only ones to wield the sword of 
racial and ethnic hatred in war. European imperial defeat and 
domination of "the darker races" was facilitated by cultural dis- 
tance factors. 

However, this can be a double-edged sword. Once oppressors 
begin to think of their victims as not being the same species, then 
these victims can accept and use that cultural distance to kill and 
oppress their colonial masters when they finally gain the upper 
hand. This double-edged sword was turned on the oppressors 
when colonial nations rose up in fierce insurrections such as the 
Sepoy Mutiny or the Mau Mau Uprising. In the final battles that 
overthrew imperialism around the world, the backlash of this 
double-edged sword was a major factor in empowering local popu- 

The United States is a comparatively egalitarian nation and 
therefore has a little more difficulty getting its population to whole- 
heartedly embrace wartime ethnic and racial hatreds. But in combat 
against Japan we had an enemy so different and alien that we were 
able to effectively implement cultural distance (combined with a 
powerful dose of moral distance, since we were "avenging" Pearl 
Harbor). Thus, according to Stouffer's research, 44 percent of 
American soldiers in World War II said they would "really like 
to kill a Japanese soldier," but only 6 percent expressed that degree 
of enthusiasm for killing Germans. 

In Vietnam cultural distance would have backlashed against us, 
since our enemy was racially and culturally indistinguishable from 
our ally. Therefore we tried hard (at a national policy level) not 
to emphasize any cultural distance from our enemies. The primary 
psychological distance factor utilized in Vietnam was moral dis- 
tance, deriving from our moral "crusade" against communism. 

Emotional Distance 163 

But try as we might we were not completely successful at keeping 
the genie of racial hatred in its bottle. 

Most of the Vietnam veterans I have interviewed developed a 
profound love for the Vietnamese culture and people. Many mar- 
ried Vietnamese women. This egalitarian tendency to mingle with 
and accept, admire, and even love another culture is an American 
strong point. Because of it America was able to turn occupied 
Germany and Japan from defeated enemies to friends and allies. 
But many U.S. soldiers in Vietnam spent their year in-country 
isolated from the positive, friendly aspects of Vietnamese culture 
and people. The only Vietnamese they met were either trying to 
kill them or were suspected of being or supporting Vietcong. This 
environment had the capacity to develop profound suspicion and 
hatred. One Vietnam veteran told me that, to him, "they were 
less than animals." 

Because of this ability to accept other cultures, Americans proba- 
bly committed fewer atrocities than most other nations would 
have under the circumstances associated with guerrilla warfare in 
Vietnam. Certainly fewer than was the track record of most colonial 
powers. Yet still we had our My Lai, and our efforts in that war were 
profoundly, perhaps fatally, undermined by that single incident. 

It can be easy to unleash this genie of racial and ethnic hatred 
in order to facilitate killing in time of war. It can be more difficult 
to keep the cork in the bottle and completely restrain it. Once it 
is out, and the war is over, the genie is not easily put back in the 
bottle. Such hatred lingers over the decades, even centuries, as can 
be seen today in Lebanon and what was once Yugoslavia. 

It would be easy to feel some smug, self-righteous sense of 
superiority and convince ourselves that such lingering hatred exists 
only in distant, insular nations like Lebanon or Yugoslavia. The 
truth is that we are still trying to suppress racism more than a 
century after the end of slavery, and our limited use of cultural 
distance in World War II and Vietnam still tarnishes our dealings 
with our opponents in those wars. 

On some future battlefield we may be tempted to once again 
manipulate this two-edged sword of cultural distance to our 

164 An Anatomy of Killing 

advantage. But before we do, we would be well advised to carefully 
consider the costs. The costs both during the war and in the peace 
that we hope to have attained when the war is over. 

Moral Distance: "Their Cause Is Holy, So How Can They 

We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered 
as "baby-killers" and "murders of women." . . . What we do is 
repugnant to us too, but necessary. Very necessary. Nowadays there 
is no such animal as a non-combatant; modern warfare is total 
warfare. A soldier cannot function at the front without the factory 
worker, the farmer, and all the other providers behind him. You 
and I, Mother, have discussed this subject, and I know you under- 
stand what I say. My men are brave and honourable. Their cause 
is holy, so how can they sin while doing their duty? If what we 
do is frightful, then may frightfulness be Germany's salvation. 
— Captain Peter Strasser, head of Germany's World War I airship 
division, in a letter quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

Moral distance involves legitimizing oneself and one's cause. It 
can generally be divided into two components. The first compo- 
nent usually is the determination and condemnation of the enemy's 
guilt, which, of course, must be punished or avenged. The other 
is an affirmation of the legality and legitimacy of one's own cause. 
Moral distance establishes that the enemy's cause is clearly 
wrong, his leaders are criminal, and his soldiers are either simply 
misguided or are sharing in their leader's guilt. But the enemy is 
still a human, and killing him is an act of justice rather than the 
extermination that is often motivated by cultural distance. 2 

In the same way that this process has traditionally enabled vio- 
lence in police forces, it can also enable violence on the battlefield. 
Alfred Vagts recognized this as a process in which 

enemies are to be deemed criminals in advance, guilty of starting 
the war; the business of locating the aggressor is to begin before 
or shortly after the outbreak of the war; the methods of conducting 
the war are to be branded as criminal; and victory is not to be a 
triumph of honour and bravery over honour and bravery but the 

Emotional Distance 165 

climax of a police hunt for bloodthirsty wretches who have violated 
law, order, and everything else esteemed good and holy. 

Vagts felt that this kind of propaganda has had an increasing influ- 
ence on modern war, and he may well be right. But this is really 
nothing new. In the West it dates back at least to those days when 
the pope, then the undisputed moral leader of Western civilization, 
established the moral justification for the tragic and bloody wars 
we call the Crusades. 

Punishment Justification: "Remember the Alamo/Maine/ 
Pearl Harbor" 

The establishment of the enemy's guilt and the need to punish 
or avenge is a fundamental and widely accepted justification for 
violence. Most nations reserve the right to "administer" capital 
punishment, and if a state directs a soldier to kill a criminal who 
is guilty of a sufficiently heinous crime, then the killing can be 
readily rationalized as nothing more than the administration of 

The mechanism of punishment justification is so fundamental 
that it can sometimes be artificially manipulated. In World War 
II, some Japanese leaders cultivated an artificial punishment justifi- 
cation. "Colonel Masonobu Tsuji," says Holmes, 

who masterminded Japanese planning for the invasion of Malaya, 
wrote a tract designed, amongst other things, to screw his soldiers 
to a pitch of fighting fury. "When you encounter the enemy after 
landing, think of yourself as an avenger come at last face to face 
with your father's murderer. Here is the man whose death will 
lighten your heart of its burden of brooding anger. If you fail to 
destroy him utterly you can never rest in peace." 

Legal Affirmation: "We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident" 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for 
one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected 
them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, 
the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and 
of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of 

166 An Anatomy of Killing 

mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel 
them to the separation. . . . 

We hold these truths to be self-evident. 

— Declaration of Independence 

The affirmation of the legality of one's own case is the flip side 
of punishment motivation. This process of asserting the legitimacy 
of your cause is one of the primary mechanisms enabling violence 
in civil wars, since the similarities of the combatants make it difficult 
to develop cultural distance. But moral distance is, in varying 
degrees, also a violence-enabling factor in all wars, not just civil 

One of the major manifestations of moral distance is what might 
be called the home-court advantage. The moral advantage associ- 
ated with defending one's own den, home, or nation has a long 
tradition that can be found in the animal kingdom as well, and it 
should not be neglected in assessing the impact of moral distance 
in empowering a nation's violence. Winston Churchill said that 
"it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they 
live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their 
own race who have warmed their hands at the invader's hearth." 

American wars have usually been characterized by a distinctive 
tendency toward moral rather than cultural distance. Cultural dis- 
tance has been a little harder to develop in America's comparatively 
egalitarian culture with its ethnically and racially diverse popula- 
tion. In the American Revolution the Boston Massacre provided 
a degree of punishment justification, and the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident") represented 
the legal affirmation that set the tone for American wars for the 
next two centuries. The War of 1812 was waged in "self-defense" 
with the home-court advantage very much on our side and the 
burning of the White House and the bombardment of Fort 
McHenry ("Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light") 
serving as rallying points for punishment justification. The moral 
foundations of our legal affirmation for our nation's concern for 
the oppression of others can be seen in the Civil War and the 
very sincere motivation on the part of many Northern soldiers to 

Emotional Distance 167 

end slavery ("Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the 
Lord"), while a degree of punishment motivation can be seen in 
the bombardment of Fort Sumter. 

In the last hundred years we have moved slightly away from 
moral affirmation as a justification for starting wars and have focused 
more on the punishment aspect of moral distance. In the Spanish- 
American War it was the sinking of the Maine that provided the 
punishment justification for war. In World War I it was the Lusita- 
nia, in World War II it was Pearl Harbor, in Korea it was an 
unprovoked attack on American troops, in Vietnam it was the 
Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and in the Gulf War it was the invasion 
of Kuwait. 3 

It is interesting to note that although punishment was used to 
justify starting American involvement in these wars, moral affirma- 
tion came into play later and lent a very American flavor to some 
of these conflicts. Once the Allies began to liberate concentration 
camps, General Eisenhower began to view World War II as a 
Crusade, and the justification for the Cold War had consistent 
underpinnings as a moral battle against totalitarianism and op- 

Moral distance processes tend to provide a foundation upon 
which other killing-enabling processes can be built. In general 
they are less likely to produce atrocities than cultural distance 
processes, and they are more in keeping with the kind of "rules" 
(deterring aggression and upholding individual human dignity) that 
organizations such as the United Nations have attempted to uphold. 
But as with cultural distance, there is a danger associated with 
moral distance. That danger is, of course, that every nation seems 
to think that God is on its side. 

Social Distance: Death across the Swine Log 

While working as a sergeant in the 82d Airborne Division in the 
1970s, I once visited a sister battalion's operations office. Most 
such offices have a large in-out roster as you come in the door. 
Usually these rosters have a list of all the people in the office, 
organized by rank; but this one had a different twist. On top of 
the list were the officers, then there was a divider section labeled 

168 An Anatomy of Killing 

"Swine Log," and then there was a list of all the enlisted personnel 
in the office. This concept of the "Swine Log" was a fairly common 
one, and although it was usually used in good humor, and usually 
more subtly, there is a social distance between officers and enlisted 
personnel. I have been a private, a sergeant, and an officer. My 
wife, my children, and I have all experienced this class structure 
and the social distance that goes with it. Officers, noncommissioned 
officers (NCOs), and enlisted members (EMs) all have separate 
clubs on a military base. Their wives go to separate social functions. 
Their families live in separate housing areas. 

To understand the role of the Swine Log in the military we 
must understand how hard it is to be the one to give the orders 
that will send your friends to their deaths, and how easy is the 
alternative of surrendering honorably and ending the horror. The 
essence of the military is that to be a good leader you must truly 
love (in a strangely detached fashion) your men, and then you 
must be willing to kill (or at least give the orders that will result 
in the deaths of) that which you love. The paradox of war is that 
those leaders who are most willing to endanger that which they 
love can be the ones who are most liable to win, and therefore 
most likely to protect their men. The social class structure that 
exists in the military provides a denial mechanism that makes it 
possible for leaders to order their men to their deaths. But it makes 
military leadership a very lonely thing. 

This class structure is even more pronounced in the British 
army. During my year at the British Army StaffCollege, the British 
officers who were my friends felt very strongly (and I agree with 
them) that their lifetime of experience in the British class system 
made them better officers. The influence of social distance must 
have been very powerful in ages past, when all officers came from 
the nobility and had a lifetime's experience in wielding the power 
of life and death. 

In nearly all historical battles prior to the age of Napoleon, the 
serf who looked down his spear or musket at the enemy saw 
another hapless serf very much like himself, and we can understand 
that he was not particularly inclined to kill his mirror image. And 

Emotional Distance 169 

so it is that the great majority of close-combat killing in ancient 
history was not done by the mobs of serfs and peasants who formed 
the great mass of combatants. It was the elite, the nobility, who 
were the real killers in these battles, and they were enabled by, 
among other things, social distance. 

Mechanical Distance: "I Don't See People . . ." 

The development of new weapon systems enables the soldier, even 
on the battlefield, to fire more lethal weapons more accurately to 
longer ranges: his enemy is, increasingly, an anonymous figure 
encircled by a gunsight, glowing on a thermal imager, or shrouded 
in armour plate. 

— Richard Holmes 
Acts of War 

Social distance is generally fading as a form of killing enabling in 
Western war. But even as it disappears in this more egalitarian 
age, it is being replaced by a new, technologically based form of 
psychological distance. During the Gulf War this was referred to 
as "Nintendo warfare." 

The infantry kills the enemy up close and personal, but in recent 
decades the nature of this close-in battle has changed significantly. 
Until recently in the U.S. Army the night sight was a rare and 
exotic piece of equipment. Now we fight primarily at night, and 
there is a thermal-imagery device or a night-vision device for 
almost every combat soldier. Thermal imagery "sees" the heat 
emitted by a body as if it were fight. Thus it works to see through 
rain, fog, and smoke. It permits you to perceive through camou- 
flage, and it makes it possible to detect enemy soldiers deep in 
wood lines and vegetation that would once have completely con- 
cealed them. 

Night-vision devices provide a superb form of psychological 
distance by converting the target into an inhuman green blob. 

The complete integration of thermal-imagery technology into 
the modern battlefield will extend to daylight hours the mechanical 
distance process that currently exists during the night. When this 

170 An Anatomy of Killing 

happens the battlefield will appear to every soldier as it did to Gad, 
an Israeli tank gunner who told Holmes that "you see it all as if 
it were happening on a TV screen. ... It occurred to me at the 
time; I see someone running and I shoot at him, and he falls, and 
it all looks like something on TV. I don't see people, that's one 
good thing about it." 

Chapter Four 

The Nature of the Victim: 
Relevance and Payoff 

The Shalit Factors: Means, Motive, and Opportunity 

Given an opportunity to kill and time to think about it, a soldier 
in combat becomes very much like a killer in a classical murder 
mystery, assessing his "means, motive, and opportunity." Israeli 
military psychologist Ben Shalit has developed a model of target 
attractiveness revolving around the nature of the victim, which 
has been modified slighdy and incorporated into our overall model 
of the killing-enabling factors. 
Shalit takes into consideration: 

• The relevance and effectiveness of available strategies for killing 
the victim (that is, the means and opportunity) 

• The relevance of the victim and the payoff of killing in terms 
of the killer's gain and the enemy's loss (the motive) 

Relevance of Available Strategies: Means and Opportunity 

Man taxes his ingenuity to be able to kill without running the risk 
of being killed. 

— Ardant du Picq 
Battle Studies 


An Anatomy of Killing 



of Victim 

1 Relevance of Available 

' Relevance ofVictim 
' Payoff 

-Killer's Gain 

-Enemy's Loss 

Tactical and technological advantages increase the effectiveness of 
the combat strategies available to the soldier. Or, as one soldier 
put it, "You want to make damn sure you don't get your own 
ass shot off while you are hosing the enemy." This is what has 
always been achieved by gaining a tactical advantage through am- 
bushes, flank attacks, and rear attacks. In modern warfare this is 
also achieved by firing through night sights and thermal-imagery 
devices at a technologically inferior enemy who does not have 
this capability. This kind of tactical and technological advantage 
provides the soldier with "means" and "opportunity," thereby 
increasing the probability that he will kill the enemy. 

An example of the influence of this process is outlined in the 
after-action reports describing the activities of Sergeant First Class 
Waldron in the section "Killing and Physical Distance." Sergeant 
Waldron was a sniper, and in this case his killing was made possible 
by the fact that he was firing at night, at extremely long ranges, 
with a night- vision scope and a noise suppressor on his rifle. The 
result was an incredibly sterile kind of killing in which the killer 
was not at all endangered by his actions: 

The first Viet Cong in the group was taken under fire . . . resulting 
in one Viet Cong killed. Immediately the other Viet Cong formed 

The Nature of the Victim 173 

a huddle around the fallen body, apparently not quite sure of what 
had taken place [emphasis added]. Sergeant Waldron continued en- 
gaging the Viet Cong one by one until a total of [all] five Viet 
Cong were killed. 

We have seen before that when the enemy is fleeing or has his 
back turned, he is far more likely to be killed. One reason for this 
is that in doing so he has provided both means and opportunity 
for his opponent to kill without endangering himself. Steve Banko 
achieved both means and opportunity when he was able to sneak 
up on and shoot a Vietcong soldier. "They didn't know I existed," 
said Banko, and that made it possible for him to muster his courage, 
and he "squeezed softly on the trigger." 

Relevance of the Victim and Payoff for the Killer: The Motive 

After a soldier is confident that he is "able to kill without running 
the risk of being killed," the next question that comes to mind 
is, Which enemy soldier should I shoot at? In Shalit's model the 
question could be phrased: Is killing this individual relevant to the 
tactical situation, and will there be a payoff for doing so? In our 
analogy to the classical murder mystery, this is the motive for 
the killing. 

The most obvious motive for killing in combat is the kill-or- 
be-killed circumstances of self-defense or the defense of one's 
friends. We have observed this factor many times in the case studies 
observed thus far: 

[He] was coming at me full gallop, his machete cocked high over 
his head. ... All of a sudden there was a guy firing a pistol right 
at us ... all of a sudden he turned his whole body and pointed 
his automatic weapon at me. ... I knew . . . that he would start 
picking us off. 

It is not very profound to observe that in choosing from a group 
of enemy targets to kill, a soldier is more likely to kill the one 
that represents the greatest gain to him and the greatest loss to the 
enemy. But if no particular soldier poses a specific threat by virtue 

174 An Anatomy of Killing 

of his actions, then the process of selecting the most high-value 
target can take more subtle forms. 

One consistent tendency is to elect to shoot leaders and officers. 
We have already noted the marine sniper who told Truby, "You 
don't like to hit ordinary troops, because they're usually scared 
draftees or worse. . . . The guys to shoot are big brass." Throughout 
military history the leaders and the flag bearers were selected as 
targets for enemy weapons, since these would represent the highest 
payoff in terms of the enemy's loss. General James Gavin, the 
commander of the 82d Airborne Division in World War II, carried 
an Ml Garand rifle, then the standard American-infantry weapon 
of World War II. He advised young infantry officers not to carry 
any equipment that would make them stand out in the eyes of 
the enemy. 

Oftentimes the criteria for deciding whom to kill are dictated 
by deciding who is manning the most dangerous weapon. In Steve 
Banko's case he selected the Vietcong soldier who "was sitting 
closest to the machine gun, and he would die because of it." 

Every surrendering soldier instinctively knows that the first thing 
he should do is drop his weapon, but if he is smart he will also 
ditch his helmet. Holmes notes that "Brigadier Peter Young, in the 
second world war, had no more regret about shooting a helmeted 
German than he would about 'banging a nail on the head.' But 
somehow he could never bring himself to hit a bareheaded man." 
It is because of this response to helmets that United Nations 
peacekeeping forces prefer to wear their traditional beret rather 
than a helmet, which might very well stop a bullet or save their 
lives in an artillery barrage. 

Killing Without Relevance or Payoff 

Being able to identify your victim as a combatant is important to 
the rationalization that occurs after the kill. If a soldier kills a child, 
a woman, or anyone who does not represent a potential threat, 
then he has entered the realm of murder (as opposed to a legitimate, 
sanctioned combat kill), and the rationalization process becomes 
quite difficult. Even if he kills in self-defense, there is enormous 

The Nature of the Victim 175 

resistance associated with killing an individual who is not normally 
associated with relevance or a payoff. 

Bruce, a Ranger team leader in Vietnam, had several personal 
kills, but the one time that he could not bring himself to kill, even 
when he was directly ordered to do so, was when the target was 
a Vietcong soldier who was also a woman. Many other narratives 
and books from Vietnam cover in great detail the shock and horror 
associated with killing female Vietcong soldiers. And although 
fighting and killing women in combat is new to Americans and 
relatively uncommon throughout military history, it is not com- 
pletely unprecedented. During the French Dahomey expedition 
in 1 892, hardened French foreign legionnaires faced a bizarre army 
of female warriors, and Holmes notes that many of these tough 
veterans "experienced a few seconds' hesitation about shooting or 
bayoneting a half-naked Amazon [and] their delay had fatal results." 

The presence of women and children can inhibit aggression in 
combat, but only if the women and children are not threatened. 
If they are present, if they become threatened, and if the combatant 
accepts responsibility for them, then the psychology of battle 
changes from one of carefully constrained ceremonial combat 
among males to the unconstrained ferocity of an animal who is 
defending its den. 

Thus the presence of women and children can also increase 
violence on the battlefield. The Israelis have consistently refused 
to put women in combat since their experiences in 1948. I have 
been told by several Israeli officers that this is because in 1948 
they experienced recurring incidences of uncontrolled violence 
among male Israeli soldiers who had had their female combatants 
killed or injured in combat, and because the Arabs were extremely 
reluctant to surrender to women. 

Holmes has a firm understanding of the inhibiting influences of 
women and children in combat when he observes: 

When Barbary apes wish to approach a senior male, they borrow 
a young animal which they carry, in order to inhibit the senior's 
aggression. Some soldiers do likewise. A British infantryman 
watched Germans emerging from a dugout to surrender in WWI: 


An Anatomy of Killing 

"they were holding up photographs of their families and offering 
watches and other valuables in an attempt to gain mercy." 

However, in some circumstances, even this is not enough. In this 
instance "as the Germans came up the steps a soldier, not from 
our battalion, shot each one in the stomach with a burst from 
his Lewis gun." This soldier, who was willing to kill helpless, 
surrendering Germans one by one, was probably influenced by 
yet another factor that enables killing on the battlefield. And that 
factor is the predisposition of the killer, which we will now examine 
in detail. 

Chapter Five 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer: 
Avengers, Conditioning, and the 2 Percent 
Who Like It 

World War II-era training was conducted on a grassy firing range 
(a known-distance, or KD, range), on which the soldier shot at a 
bull's-eye target. After he fired a series of shots the target was 
checked, and he was then given feedback that told him where 
he hit. 

Modern training uses what are essentially B. F. Skinner's operant 
conditioning techniques to develop a firing behavior in the soldier. 4 
This training comes as close to simulating actual combat conditions 
as possible. The soldier stands in a foxhole with full combat equip- 
ment, and man-shaped targets pop up briefly in front of him. 
These are the eliciting stimuli that prompt the target behavior of 
shooting. If the target is hit, it immediately drops, thus providing 
immediate feedback. Positive reinforcement is given when these 
hits are exchanged for marksmanship badges, which usually have 
some form of privilege or reward (praise, recognition, three-day 
passes, and so on) associated with them. 

Traditional marksmanship training has been transformed into a 
combat simulator. Watson states that soldiers who have conducted 


An Anatomy of Killing 

of Killer 

1 Training 

1 Recent Experiences 

1 Temperament 

this kind of simulator training "often report, after they have met 
a real life emergency, that they just carried out the correct drill 
and completed it before they realized that they were not in the 
simulator." Vietnam veterans have repeatedly reported similar ex- 
periences. Several independent studies indicate that this powerful 
conditioning process has dramatically increased the firing rate of 
American soldiers since World War II. 

Richard Holmes has noted the ineffectiveness of an army trained 
in traditional World War II methods as opposed to an army whose 
soldiers have been conditioned by modern training methods. 
Holmes interviewed British soldiers returning from the Falklands 
War and asked them if they had experienced any incidence of 
nonfiling similar to that observed by Marshall in World War II. 
The British, who had been trained by modern methods, had not 
seen any such thing in their soldiers, but they had definitely ob- 
served it in the Argentineans, who had received World War II- 
style training and whose only effective fire had come from machine 
guns and snipers. 5 

The value of this modern batdeproofing can also be seen in the 
war in Rhodesia in the 1970s. The Rhodesian security force was 
a highly trained modern army fighting against an ill-trained band 
of guerrillas. Through superior tactics and training the security force 
maintained an overall kill ratio of about eight-to-one throughout 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer 179 

the war. Their commando units actually improved their kill ratio 
from thirty-five- to-one to fifty-to-one. The Rhodesians achieved 
this in an environment in which they did not have air and artillery 
support, nor did they have a significant advantage in weapons over 
their Soviet-supported opponents. The only thing they had going 
for them was superior training, and the advantage this gave them 
added up to nothing less than total tactical superiority. 6 

The effectiveness of modern conditioning techniques that enable 
killing in combat is irrefutable, and their impact on the modern 
battlefield is enormous. 

Recent Experiences: "That's for My Brother" 

Bob Fowler, F Company's popular, tow-headed commander, had 
bled to death after being hit in the spleen. His orderly, who adored 
him, snatched up a submachine gun and unforgivably massacred a 
line of unarmed Japanese soldiers who had just surrendered. 

— William Manchester 
Goodbye, Darkness 

The recent loss of friends and beloved leaders in combat can 
also enable violence on the battlefield. The deaths of friends and 
comrades can stun, paralyze, and emotionally defeat soldiers. But 
in many circumstances soldiers react with anger (which is one of 
the well-known response stages to death and dying), and then the 
loss of comrades can enable killing. 

Our literature is full of examples, and even our law includes 
concepts such as temporary insanity and extenuating and mitigating 
circumstances. Revenge killing during a burst of rage has been a 
recurring theme throughout history, and it needs to be considered 
in the overall equation of factors that enable killing on the battle- 

The soldier in combat is a product of his environment, and 
violence can beget violence. This is the nurture side of the nature- 
nurture question. But he is also very much influenced by his 
temperament, or the nature side of the nature-nurture equation, 
and that is a subject that we will now address in detail. 

180 An Anatomy of Killing 

The Temperament of the "Natural Soldier" 

There is such a thing as a "natural soldier": the kind who derives 
his greatest satisfaction from male companionship, from excitement, 
and from the conquering of physical obstacles. He doesn't want 
to kill people as such, but he will have no objections if it occurs 
within a moral framework that gives him justification — like 
war — and if it is the price of gaining admission to the kind of 
environment he craves. Whether such men are born or made, I 
do not know, but most of them end up in armies (and many move 
on again to become mercenaries, because regular army life in 
peacetime is too routine and boring). 

But armies are not full of such men. They are so rare that they 
form only a modest fraction even of small professional armies, 
mostly congregating in the commando-type special forces. In large 
conscript armies they virtually disappear beneath the weight of 
numbers of more ordinary men. And it is these ordinary men, who 
do not like combat at all, that armies must persuade to kill. Until 
only a generation ago, they did not even realize how bad a job 
they were doing. 

— Gwynne Dyer 

Swank and Marchand's World War II study noted the existence of 
2 percent of combat soldiers who are predisposed to be "aggressive 
psychopaths" and apparently do not experience the normal resis- 
tance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated 
with extended periods of combat. But the negative connotations 
associated with the term "psychopath," or its modern equivalent 
"sociopath," are inappropriate here, since this behavior is a gener- 
ally desirable one for soldiers in combat. 

It would be absolutely incorrect to conclude that 2 percent of 
all veterans are psychopathic killers. Numerous studies indicate 
that combat veterans are no more inclined to violence than nonvets. 
A more accurate conclusion would be that there is 2 percent of 
the male population that, if pushed or if given a legitimate reason, 
will kill without regret or remorse. What these individuals repre- 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer 181 

sent — and this is a terribly important point that I must empha- 
size — is the capacity for the levelheaded participation in combat 
that we as a society glorify and that Hollywood would have us 
believe that all soldiers possess. In the course of interviewing veter- 
ans as a part of this study I have met several individuals who may 
fit within this 2 percent, and since returning from combat they 
have, without fail, proven themselves to be above-average contrib- 
utors to the prosperity and welfare of our society. 

Dyer draws from his own personal experiences as a soldier 
for understanding: 

Aggression is certainly part of our genetic makeup, and necessarily 
so, but the normal human being's quota of aggression will not 
cause him to kill acquaintances, let alone wage war against strangers 
from a different country. We live among millions of people who 
have killed fellow human beings with pitiless efficiency — ma- 
chine-gunning them, using flame throwers on them, dropping 
explosive bombs on them from twenty thousand feet up — yet we 
do not fear these people. 

The overwhelming majority of those who have killed, now or 
at any time in the past, have done so as soldiers in war, and we 
recognize that that has practically nothing to do with the kind of 
personal aggression that would endanger us as their fellow citizens. 

Marshall's World War II figure of a 15 to 20 percent firing rate 
does not necessarily contradict Swank and Marchand's 2 percent 
figure, since many of these firers were under extreme empowering 
circumstances, and many may have been in a posturing mode and 
merely firing wildly or above the enemy's heads. And later figures 
of 55 percent (Korea) and 90 to 95 percent (Vietnam) firing rates 
represent the actions of men empowered by increasingly more 
effective conditioning processes, but these figures also do not tell 
us how many were posturing. 

Dyer's World War II figure of 1 percent of U.S. Army Air 
Corps fighter pilots being responsible for 40 percent of all kills is 
also generally in keeping with the Swank and Marchand estimates. 
Erich Hartmann, the World War II German ace — unquestionably 
the greatest fighter pilot of all time, with 351 confirmed victories — 

182 An Anatomy of Killing 

claimed that 80 percent of his victims never knew he was in the 
same sky with them. This claim, if accurate, provides a remarkable 
insight into the nature of such a killer. Like the kills of most 
successful snipers and fighter pilots, the vast majority of the killing 
done by these men were what some would call simple ambushes 
and back shootings. No provocation, anger, or emotion empow- 
ered these killings. 

Several senior U.S. Air Force officers have told me that when 
the U.S. Air Force tried to preselect fighter pilots after World War 
II, the only common denominator they could find among their 
World War II aces was that they had been involved in a lot of 
fights as children. Not bullies — for most true bullies avoid fights 
with anyone who is reasonably capable of fighting them — but 
fighters. If you can recapture or imagine the anger and indignity 
a child feels in a school-yard fight and magnify that into a way of 
life, then you can begin to understand these individuals and their 
capacity for violence. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 
III-R) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) indicates 
that the incidence of "anti-social personality disorder" (that is, 
sociopaths) among the general population of American males is 
approximately 3 percent. These sociopaths are not easily used in 
armies, since by their very nature they rebel against authority, but 
over the centuries armies have had considerable success at bending 
such highly aggressive individuals to their will during wartime. So 
if two out of three of this 3 percent were able to accept military 
discipline, a hypothetical 2 percent of soldiers would, by the APA's 
definition, "have no remorse about the effects of their behavior 
on others." 7 

There is strong evidence that there exists a genetic predisposition 
for aggression. In all species the best hunter, the best fighter, the 
most aggressive male, survives to pass his biological predispositions 
on to his descendants. There are also environmental processes that 
can fully develop this predisposition toward aggression; when we 
combine this genetic predisposition with environmental develop- 
ment we get a killer. But there is another factor: the presence or 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer 183 

absence of empathy for others. Again, there may be biological and 
environmental causes for this empathic process, but, whatever its 
origin, there is undoubtedly a division in humanity between those 
who can feel and understand the pain and suffering of others, and 
those who cannot. The presence of aggression, combined with 
the absence of empathy, results in sociopathy. The presence of 
aggression, combined with the presence of empathy, results in a 
completely different kind of individual from the sociopath. 

One veteran I interviewed told me that he thought of most of the 
world as sheep: gentle, decent, kindly creatures who are essentially 
incapable of true aggression. In this veteran's mind there is another 
human subspecies (of which he is a member) that is a kind of dog: 
faithful, vigilant creatures who are very much capable of aggression 
when circumstances require. But, according to his model, there 
are wolves (sociopaths) and packs of wild dogs (gangs and aggressive 
armies) abroad in the land, and the sheepdogs (the soldiers and 
policemen of the world) are environmentally and biologically pre- 
disposed to be the ones who confront these predators. 

Some experts in the psychological and psychiatric community 
think that these men are simply sociopaths and that the above 
view of killers is romanticizing. But I believe that there is another 
category of human beings out there. We know about sociopaths 
because their condition is, by definition, a pathology or a psycho- 
logical disorder. But the psychological community does not recog- 
nize this other category of human beings, these metaphoric sheep- 
dogs, because their personality type does not represent pathology 
or disorder. Indeed, they are valuable and contributing members 
of our society, and it is only in time of war, or on police forces, 
that these characteristics can be observed. 

I have met these men, these "sheepdogs," over and over again 
as I interviewed veterans. They are men like one U.S. Army 
lieutenant colonel, a Vietnam veteran, who told me: "I learned 
early on in life that there are people out there who will hurt you 
if given the chance, and I have devoted my life to being prepared 
to face them." These men are quite often armed and always vigilant. 
They would not misuse or misdirect their aggression any more 

184 An Anatomy of Killing 

than a sheepdog would turn on his flock, but in their hearts 
many of them yearn for a righteous battle, a wolf upon whom to 
legitimately and lawfully turn their skills. 

Richard Heckler speaks of this yearning in his book In Search 
of the Warrior Spirit: 

This urgent calling of nature longs to be tested, seeks to be chal- 
lenged beyond itself. The warrior within us beseeches Mars, the 
god of War, to deliver us to that crucial battlefield that will redeem 
us into the terrifying immediacy of the moment. We want to face 
our Goliath so we may be reminded that the warrior David is alive, 
in us. We pray to the war gods to guide us to the walls of Jericho 
so we may dare the steadfastness and strength of our trumpet call. 
We aspire to be defeated in battles by powers so much greater than 
ourself, that the defeat itself will have made us larger than when 
we arrived. We long for the encounter that will ultimately empower 
us with dignity and honor. ... Be not mistaken: the longing is 
there and it's loving and terrible and beautiful and tragic. 

Perhaps there is another analogy. According to Carl Jung, there 
are deeply ingrained models for behavior called archetypes that 
exist deep in every human's collective unconscious — an inherited, 
unconscious reservoir of images derived from our ancestors' uni- 
versal experiences and shared by the whole human race. These 
powerful archetypes can drive us by channeling our libidinal en- 
ergy. They include such Jungian concepts as the mother, the wise 
old man, the hero, and the warrior. I think that Jung might refer 
to these individuals, not as "sheepdogs," but as "warriors" and 
"heroes." 8 

According to Gwynne Dyer, USAF research concerning aggres- 
sive killing behavior determined that 1 percent of their fighter 
pilots in World War II did nearly 40 percent of the air-to-air 
killing, and the majority of USAF World War II pilots never even 
tried to shoot anyone down. This 1 percent of World War II 
fighter pilots, Swank and Marchand's 2 percent, Griffith's low 
Napoleonic and Civil War killing rates, and Marshall's low World 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer 185 

War II firing rates can all be at least partially explained if only a small 
percentage of these combatants were actually willing to actively kill 
the enemy in these combat situations. Whether called sociopaths, 
sheepdogs, warriors, or heroes, they are there, they are a distinct 
minority, and in times of danger a nation needs them desperately. 

Chapter Six 

All Factors Considered: 
The Mathematics of Death 

A soldier who constantly reflected upon the knee-smashing, 
widow-making characteristics of his weapon, or who always 
thought of the enemy as a man exactly as himself, doing much the 
same task and subjected to exacdy the same stresses and strains, 
would find it difficult to operate effectively in battle. . . . Without 
the creation of abstract images of the enemy, and without the 
depersonalization of the enemy during training, battle would be- 
come impossible to sustain. But if the abstract image is overdrawn 
or depersonalization is stretched into hatred, the restraints on human 
behavior in war are easily swept aside. If, on the other hand, men 
reflect too deeply upon the enemy's common humanity, then they 
risk being unable to proceed with the task whose aims may be 
eminently just and legitimate. This conundrum lies, like a Gordian 
knot linking the diverse strands of hostility and affection, at the 
heart of the soldier's relationship with the enemy. 

— Richard Holmes 
Acts of War 

All of the killing processes examined in this section have the same 
basic problem. By manipulating variables, modern armies direct 

All Factors Considered 187 

the flow of violence, turning killing on and off like a faucet. But 
this is a delicate and dangerous process. Too much, and you end 
up with a My Lai, which can undermine your efforts. Too little, 
and your soldiers will be defeated and killed by someone who is 
more aggressively disposed. 

An understanding of the physical distance factor, addressed in 
the section "Killing and Physical Distance," combined with a study 
of all of the other personal-kill-enabling factors identified thus far, 
permits us to develop an "equation" that can represent the total 
resistance involved in a specific killing circumstance. 

To recap, the variables represented in our equation include 
the Milgram factors, the Shalit factors, and the predisposition of 
the killer. 

The Milgram Factors 

Milgram's famous studies of killing behavior in laboratory condi- 
tions (the willingness of subjects to engage in behavior that they 
believed was killing a fellow subject) identified three primary situa- 
tional variables that influence or enable killing behavior; in this 
model I have called these (1) the demands of authority, (2) group 
absolution (remarkably similar to the concept of diffusion of re- 
sponsibility), and (3) the distance from the victim. Each of these 
variables can be further "operationalized" as follows: 

Demands of Authority 

• Proximity of the obedience-demanding authority figure to the 

• Subject's subjective respect for the obedience-demanding author- 
ity figure 

• Intensity of the obedience-demanding authority figure's demands 
of killing behavior 

• Legitimacy of the obedience-demanding authority figure's au- 
thority and demands 

Group Absolution 

• Subject's identification with the group 

• Proximity of the group to the subject 


An Anatomy of Killing 

Demands of Authority 


— Proximity of Authority 
■•—Respect for Authority- 

• Intensity of Demand for Kill 

• Legitimacy of Authority 

Group Absolution 

of Killer 


-•—Identification with Group 
Proximity of Group 

Total Attractiveness 
Distance of Victim 

— Physical Distance— 

— Emotional Distance - 

• Cultural 

• Moral 

• Social 

• Mechanical 

' Intensity of Support for Kill 
1 Number in Immediate Group 
1 Legitimacy of Group 

» Training/Conditioning 
■ Recent Experiences 
• Temperament 

• Relevance of 
Available Strategies 

• Relevance of Victim 

• Payoff 
-Killer's Gain 
-Enemy's Loss 

• Intensity of the group's support for the kill 

• Number in the immediate group 

• Legitimacy of the group 

Total Distance from the Victim 

1 Physical distance between the killer and the victim 
Emotional distance between the killer and the victim, including: 

— Social distance, which considers the impact of a lifetime of 
viewing a particular class as less than human in a socially 
stratified environment 

— Cultural distance, which includes racial and ethnic differences 
that permit the killer to "dehumanize" the victim 

All Factors Considered 189 

— Moral distance, which takes into consideration intense belief 
in moral superiority and "vengeful" actions 

— Mechanical distance, which includes the sterile "video game" 
unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a 
sniper sight, or some other kind of mechanical buffer 

The Shalit Factors 

Israeli military psychology has developed a model revolving around 
the nature of the victim, which I have incorporated into this model. 
This model considers the tactical circumstances associated with: 

• Relevance and effectiveness of available strategies for killing 
the victim 

• Relevance of the victim as a threat to the killer and his tacti- 
cal situation 

• Payoff of the killer's action in terms of 

— Killer's gain 
— Enemy's loss 

The Predisposition of the Killer 

This area considers such factors as: 

• Training/conditioning of the soldier (Marshall's contributions to 
the U.S. Army's training program increased the firing rate of the 
individual infantryman from 15 to 20 percent in World War II 
to 55 percent in Korea and nearly 90 to 95 percent in Vietnam.) 

• Recent experiences of the soldier (For example, having a friend 
or relative killed by the enemy has been strongly linked with 
killing behavior on the battlefield.) 

The temperament that predisposes a soldier to killing behavior 
is one of the most difficult areas to research. However, Swank and 
Marchand did propose the existence of 2 percent of combat sol- 
diers who are predisposed to be "aggressive psychopaths" and who 
apparently do not experience the trauma commonly associated with 
killing behavior. These findings have been tentatively confirmed by 
other observers and by USAF figures concerning aggressive killing 
behavior among fighter pilots. 9 

190 An Anatomy of Killing 

An Application: The Road to My Lai 

We can see some of these factors at work in the participation of 
Lieutenant Calley and his platoon in the infamous My Lai Massacre. 
Tim O'Brien writes that "to understand what happens to the GI 
among the mine fields of My Lai, you must know something 
about what happens in America. You must understand Fort Lewis, 
Washington. You must understand a thing called basic training." 
O'Brien perceives both cultural distance and training/conditioning 
(although he does not use those terms) in the bayonet training he 
received when his drill sergeant bellowed in his ear, "Dinks are 

little s s. If you want their guts, you gotta go low. Crouch 

and dig." In the same way, Holmes concludes that "the road to 
My Lai was paved, first and foremost, by the dehumanization of 
the Vietnamese and the 'mere gook rule' which declared that 
killing a Vietnamese civilian did not really count." 

Lieutenant Calley's platoon had received a series of casualties 
from enemies who were seldom seen and who seemed always to 
melt back into the civilian population. The day before the massacre, 
the popular Sergeant Cox was killed by a booby trap. (Increasing 
the "relevance" of their civilian victims and adding the recent 
experience of losing friends to the enemy, while also increasing the 
intensity of group support for killing.) According to one witness, 
Calley's company commander, Captain Medina, stated in a briefing 
to his men that '"our job is to go in rapidly, and to neutralize 
everything. To kill everything.' 'Captain Medina? Do you mean 
women and children, too?' 'I mean everything.'" (Moderately 
intense demands of a legitimate and respected authority figure.) 

When we look at photographs of the piles of dead women and 
children at My Lai it seems impossible to understand how any 
American could participate in such an atrocity, but it also seems 
impossible to believe that 65 percent of Milgram's subjects would 
shock someone to death in a laboratory experiment, despite the 
screams and pleas of the "victim," merely because an unknown 
obedience-demanding authority told them to. Although it is not 
an excuse for such behavior, we can at least understand how My 
Lai could have happened (and possibly prevent such occurrences 

All Factors Considered 191 

in the future) by understanding the power of the cumulative factors 
associated with a soldier ordered to kill by a legitimate, proximate, 
and respected authority, in the midst of a proximate, respected, 
legitimate, consenting group, predisposed by desensitization and 
conditioning during training and recent loss of friends, distanced 
from his victims by a widely accepted cultural and moral gulf, 
confronted with an act that would be a relevant loss to an enemy 
who has denied and frustrated other available strategies. 

A veteran quoted by Dyer shows a deep understanding of the 
tremendous pressures many of these factors place on the "ordinary, 
basically decent" American soldier: 

You put those same kids in the jungle for a while, get them real 
scared, deprive them of sleep, and let a few incidents change some 
of their fears to hate. Give them a sergeant who has seen too many 
of his men killed by booby traps and by lack of distrust, and who 
feels that Vietnamese are dumb, dirty, and weak, because they are 
not like him. Add a litde mob pressure, and those nice kids who 
accompany us today would rape like champions. Kill, rape and 
steal is the name of the game. 

Each Man a Firing Squad 

In summary, most of the factors that enable killing on the battlefield 
can be seen in the diffusion of responsibility that exists in an 
execution by firing squad. Because, in combat, each man is really 
a member of a huge firing squad. The leader gives the command 
and provides the demands of authority, but he does not have to 
actually kill. The firing squad provides conformity and absolution 
processes. Blindfolding the victim provides psychological distance. 
And the knowledge of the victim's guilt provides relevance and 

The killing-enabling factors provide a powerful set of tools to 
bypass or overcome the soldier's resistance to killing. But as we will 
see in the section "Killing in Vietnam," the higher the resistance 
bypassed, the higher the trauma that must be overcome in the 
subsequent rationalization process. Killing comes with a price, and 
societies must learn that their soldiers will have to spend the rest 

192 An Anatomy of Killing 

Diffusion of Responsibility 




Guilt _ f ™* Distance 

Group '"WW??.- 

Absolution Ki,ler 



of their lives living with what they have done. The research out- 
lined in this book has permitted us to understand that, although 
the mechanism of the firing squad ensures killing, the psychological 
toll on the members of a firing squad is tremendous. In the same 
way, society must now begin to understand the enormity of the 
price and process of killing in combat. Once they do, killing will 
never be the same again. 


Killing and Atrocities: 
"No Honor Here, No Virtue' 

The basic aim of a nation at war is establishing an image of the 
enemy in order to distinguish as sharply as possible the act of killing 
from the act of murder. 

— Glenn Gray 
The Warriors 

"Atrocity" can be defined as the killing of a noncombatant, either 
an erstwhile combatant who is no longer fighting or has given up 
or a civilian. But modern war, and particularly guerrilla warfare, 
makes such distinctions blurry. 

Atrocity has always been part of war, and in order to understand 
war we must understand atrocity. Let us begin to understand it 
by examining the full spectrum of atrocity. 

Chapter One 

The Full Spectrum of Atrocity 

We often think of Nazi atrocities in World War II as all having 
been committed by psychopaths or sadistic killers, but there is a 
fortuitous shortage of such individuals in society. In reality, the 
problem of distinguishing murder from killing in combat is ex- 
tremely complex. If we examine atrocity as a spectrum of occur- 
rences rather than a precisely defined type of occurrence, then 
perhaps we can better understand the nature of this phenomenon. 
This spectrum is intended to address only individual personal 
kills and will leave out the indiscriminate killing of civilians caused 
by bombs and artillery. 

Slaving the Noble Enemy 

Anchoring one end of the spectrum of atrocity is the act of killing 
an armed enemy who is trying to kill you. This end of the spectrum 
is not atrocity at all, but serves as a standard against which other 
kinds of killing can be measured. 

The enemy who fights to a "noble" death validates and affirms 
the killer's belief in his own nobility and the glory of his cause. 
Thus a World War I British officer could speak admiringly to 
Holmes of German machine gunners who remained faithful unto 
death: "Topping fellows. Fight until they are killed. They gave 
us hell." And T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) immortalized 

196 Killing and Atrocities 

in prose the German units who stood firm against his Arab forces 
during the rout of the Turkish army in World War I: 

I grew proud of the enemy who had killed my brothers. They 
were two thousand miles from home, without hope and without 
guides, in conditions bad enough to break the bravest nerves. Yet 
their sections held together, sheering through the wrack of Turk 
and Arab like armoured ships, high faced and silent. When attacked 
they halted, took position, fired to order. There was no haste, no 
crying, no hesitation. They were glorious. 

These are "noble kills," which place the minimum possible burden 
on the conscience of the killer. And thus the soldier is able to 
further rationalize his kill by honoring his fallen foes, thereby 
gaining stature and peace by virtue of the nobility of those he 
has slain. 

Gray Areas: Ambushes and Guerrilla Warfare 

Many kills in modern combat are ambushes and surprise attacks 
in which the enemy represents no immediate threat to the killer, 
but is killed anyway, without opportunity to surrender. Steve 
Banko provides an excellent example of such a kill: "They didn't 
know I existed . . . but I sure as hell saw them. . . . This is one 

f- ed up way to die, I thought as I squeezed softly on the 


Such a kill is by no means considered an atrocity, but it is also 
distinctly different from a noble kill and potentially harder for the 
killer to rationalize and deal with. Until this century such ambush 
kills were extremely rare in combat, and many civilizations partially 
protected themselves and their consciences and mental health by 
declaring such forms of warfare dishonorable. 

One of the things that made Vietnam particularly traumatic was 
that due to the nature of guerrilla warfare, soldiers were often 
placed in situations in which the fine between combatant and 
noncombatant was blurred: 

For the tense, battle-primed GIs ordered to seal off the village, the 
often subde nuances and indicators used by interrogators to identify 

The Full Spectrum of Atrocity 197 

VC from civilian, combatant from non-combatant, were a luxury 
they felt they could not afford. The decision, VC or not VC, often 
had to be reached in a split second and was compounded by the 
language barrier. The consequences of any ambiguity sometimes 
proved fatal to Vietnamese villagers. In Ben Sue, one unit of Ameri- 
can soldiers, crouching near a road leading out of the village, 
were on the lookout for VC. A Vietnamese man approached their 
position on a bicycle. He wore black pajamas, the peasant outfit 
adopted by the VC. As he rode 20 yards past the point where he 
first came into view, a machine gun crackled some 30 yards in 
front of him. The man tumbled dead into a muddy ditch. 

One soldier grimly commented: "That's a VC for you. He's a 
VC all right. That's what they wear. He was leaving town. He 
had to have some reason." 

Maj Charles Malloy added: "What're you going to do when 
you spot a guy in black pajamas? Wait for him to get out his 
automatic weapon and start shooting? I'm telling you I'm not." 

The soldiers never found out whether the Vietnamese was VC 
or not. Such was the perplexity of a war in which the enemy was 
not a foreign force but lived and fought among the people. 

— Edward Doyle 
"Three Batdes" 

As we read the words of these men, we can place ourselves in 
their shoes and understand what they are saying. They were men 
trained to kill in a tense situation; they had no real need to justify 
their actions. So why did they try so hard? "That's a VC for you. 
He's a VC all right. That's what they wear. He was leaving town. 
He had to have some reason." It may be that what we are hearing 
here is someone trying desperately to justify his actions to himself. 
He has been placed in a situation in which he has been forced to 
take these kinds of actions, maybe even make these kinds of mis- 
takes, and he needs desperately to have someone tell him that what 
he did was right and necessary. 

Sometimes it was even more difficult. For example, consider 
the situation that this U.S. Army helicopter pilot found himself 
in in Vietnam: 

198 Killing and Atrocities 

Off to our left we could see a couple of downed Hueys [helicopters] 
inside the paddy. Strangely, just as I reached the center of the hub 
I noticed an old lady, standing almost dead center of the hub, 
casually planting rice. Still zigzagging, I looked back over my 
shoulder at her trying to figure out what she was doing there — was 
she crazy or just determined not to let the war interfere with her 
schedule? Glancing again at the burning Hueys it dawned on me 
what she was doing out there and I turned back. 

"Shoot that old woman, Hall," I yelled, but Hall [the door 
gunner], who had been busy on his own side of the chopper had 
not seen her before and looked at me as if I had gone crazy, so 
we passed her without firing and I zigzagged around the paddies, 
dodging sniper fire, while I filled Hall in. 

"She has a 360 degree view over the trees around the villages, 
Hall," I yelled. "The machine gunners are watching her and when 
she sees Hueys coming, she faces them and they concentrate their 
fire over the spot. That's why so many are down around here — 
she's a goddamned weathervane for them. Shoot her!" 

Hall gave me a thumbs up and I turned to make another pass, 
but Jerry and Paul [in another helicopter] had caught on to her 
also and had put her down. For some reason, as I again passed our 
burning Hueys, I could not feel anything but relief at the old 
woman's death. 

— D. Bray 
"Prowling for POWs" 

Was the woman being forced to do what she was doing? Was she 
truly a Vietcong sympathizer, or a victim? Were Vietcong weapons 
being held on her or her family? 

And would anyone have done any differently than these pilots 
under the circumstances? Possibly. But possibly they would not 
have lived to tell about it if they had done differently. Certainly 
no one will ever prosecute these men, and most certainly they 
will have to live with these kinds of doubts for the rest of their lives. 

Sometimes the trauma associated with these gray-area killings 
in modern combat can be tremendous: 

The Full Spectrum of Atrocity 199 

Look, I don't like to kill people, but I've killed Arabs [note the 
unconscious dehumanizing of the enemy]. Maybe I'll tell you a 
story. A car came towards us, in the middle of the [Lebanese] war, 
without a white flag. Five minutes before another car had come, 
and there were four Palestinians with RPGs [rocket-propelled gre- 
nades] in it — killed three of my friends. So this new Peugeot 
comes towards us, and we shoot. And there was a family there — 
three children. And I cried, but I couldn't take the chance. It's a 
real problem. . . . Children, father, mother. All the family was 
killed, but we couldn't take the chance. 

— Gaby Bashan, Israeli reservist in Lebanon, 1982 
quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

Once again, we see killing in modern warfare, in an age of guerrillas 
and terrorists, as increasingly moving from black and white to 
shades of gray. And as we continue down the atrocity spectrum, 
we will see a steady fade to black. 

Dark Areas: Slaying the Ignoble Enemy 

The close-range murder of prisoners and civilians during war is a 
demonstrably counterproductive action. Executing enemy prison- 
ers stiffens the will of the enemy and makes him less likely to 
surrender. Yet in the heat of battle, it happens quite often. 

Several of the Vietnam veterans I interviewed said, without 
detailed explanation, that they "never took prisoners." Often in 
school and training situations when it is impractical to take prisoners 
during operations behind enemy lines, there is an unspoken 
agreement that the prisoners have to be "taken care of." 

But in the heat of battle it is not really all that simple. In order 
to fight at close range one must deny the humanity of one's enemy. 
Surrender requires the opposite — that one recognize and take 
pity on the humanity of the enemy. A surrender in the heat of 
battle requires a complete, and very difficult, emotional turnaround 
by both parties. The enemy who opts to posture or fight and then 
dies in battle becomes a noble enemy. But if at the last minute he 
tries to surrender he runs a great risk of being killed immediately. 

Holmes writes at length on this process: 

200 Killing and Atrocities 

Surrendering during battle is difficult. Charles Carrington sug- 
gested, "No soldier can claim a right to 'quarter' if he fights to 
the extremity." T.P. Marks saw seven German machine-gunners 
shot. "They were defenseless, but they have chosen to make them- 
selves so. We did not ask them to abandon their guns. They only 
did so when they saw that those who were not mown down were 
getting closer to them and the boot was now on the other foot." 

Ernst Junger agreed that the defender had no moral right to 
surrender in these circumstances: "the defending force, after driving 
their bullets into the attacking one at five paces' distance, must 
take the consequences. A man cannot change his feelings again 
during the last rush with a veil of blood before his eyes. He does 
not want to take prisoners but to kill." 

During the cavalry action at Moncel in 1914 Sergeant James 
Taylor of the 9th Lancers saw how difficult it was to restrain excited 
men. "Then there was a bit of a melee, horses neighing and a lot 
of yelling and shouting. ... I remember seeing Corporal Bolte run 
his lance right through a dismounted German who had his hands 
up and thinking that it was a rather bad thing to do." 

Harold Dearden, a medical officer on the Western Front, read 
a letter written by a young soldier to his mother. "When we 
jumped into their trench, mother, they all held up their hands and 
shouted 'Camerad, Camerad' and that means 'I give in' in their 
language. But they had to have it, mother. I think that is all from 
your loving Albert ." 

. . . No soldier who fights until his enemy is at close small-arms 
range, in any war, has more than perhaps a fifty-fifty chance of 
being granted quarter. If he stands up to surrender he risks being 
shot with the time-honoured comment, 'Too late, chum.' If he 
lies low, he will fall victim to the grenades of the mopping-up 
party, in no mood to take chances. 

Yet Holmes concludes that the consistently remarkable thing in 
such circumstances is not how many soldiers are killed while trying 
to surrender, but how few. Even under this kind of provocation, 
the general resistance to killing runs true. 

The Full Spectrum of Atrocity 201 

Surrender-executions are clearly wrong and counterproductive 
to a force that has dedicated itself to fighting in a fashion that the 
nation and the soldiers can live with after battle. They are, however, 
completed in the heat of battle and are rarely prosecuted. It is only 
the individual soldier who must hold himself accountable for his 
actions most of the time. 

Executions in cold blood are another matter entirely. 

Black Areas: Executions 

"Execution" is defined here as the close-range killing of a noncom- 
batant (civilian or POW) who represents no significant or immedi- 
ate military or personal threat to the killer. The effect of such kills 
on the killer is intensely traumatic, since the killer has limited 
internal motivation to kill the victim and kills almost entirely out 
of external motivations. The close range of the kill severely hampers 
the killer in his attempts to deny the humanity of the victim and 
severely hampers denial of personal responsibility for the kill. 

Jim Morris is an ex-Green Beret and a Vietnam veteran turned 
writer. Here he interviews an Australian veteran of the Malaysian 
counterinsurgency who is trying to live with the memory of an 
execution. His story is entitled "Killers in Retirement: 'No Heroes, 
No Villains, Just Mates.'" 

This time we leaned against a wall on the opposite side of the 
room. He leaned forward, speaking sofdy and earnestly. This time 
there was no pretense. Here was a man baring his soul. 

"We attacked a terrorist prison camp, and took a woman pris- 
oner. She must have been high up in the party. She wore the tabs 
of a commissar. I'd already told my men we took no prisoners, 
but I'd never killed a woman. 'She must die quickly. We must 
leave!' my sergeant said. 

"Oh god, I was sweatin'," Harry went on. "She was magnificent. 
'What's the matter, Mister Ballentine?' she asked. 'You're sweatin'.' 

"'Not for you,' I said. 'It's a malaria recurrence.' I gave my 
pistol to my sergeant, but he just shook his head. . . . None of 
them would do it, and if I didn't I'd never be able to control that 
unit again. 

202 Killing and Atrocities 

"'You're sweatin', Mr. Ballentine,' she said again. 

'"Not for you,' I said." 

"Did you kill her?" 

','Hell, I blew 'er f in' 'ead off," he replied. . . . 

"My platoon all gathered 'round and smiled. 'You are our tuan 
[Malay for "sir" or "leader"],' my sergeant said. 'You are our tuan.' " 

I'm not a priest. I'm not even an officer any more. ... I hoped 
my look told Harry that I liked him, that it was okay with me if 
he forgave himself. It's hard to do though. 

This is the spectrum of atrocity, this is how atrocity happens, but 
not why. Let us now examine the why of atrocity, the rationale 
of atrocity, and the dark power that atrocity lends to those who 
wield it. 

Chapter Two 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 

The Problem: "Righteousness Comes Out of a Gun Barrel [?]" 

On a cold, rainy training day at Fort Lewis, Washington, I listened 
to soldiers talk who had just completed a prisoner of war exercise. 
One held that the enemy troops should be marched through an 
area saturated with persistent nerve gas. Another stated that the 
claymore mine presented the most cost-effective and energy-effi- 
cient method of disposing of POWs. His buddy claimed that they 
were both being wasteful and that POWs could best be used for 
minefield clearing and reconnaissance for nuclear- and chemical- 
contaminated areas. The battalion chaplain, who was standing 
nearby, began to address this obvious moral issue. 

The chaplain cited the Geneva conventions and discussed our 
nation as a force of righteousness and the support of God for our 
cause. To pragmatic soldiers this moral approach didn't go far. 
The Geneva convention was dismissed, and our forward observer 
said that in school they had told him that "the Geneva convention 
says you can't fire white phosphorus at troops; so you call it 
in on their equipment." The young artilleryman's logic was "if 
we're gonna find ways around the Geneva convention, what 
do you think the enemy is gonna do?" Another said, "If we get 
captured by the Russians, we might as well kiss it off, so why 
not give them a dose of the same medicine?" To the chaplain's 

204 Killing and Atrocities 

"righteousness" and "support of God" comments, the cold, wet 
soldiers' answers were along the lines of "righteousness comes out 
of a gun barrel" and "the victor writes history." 

At Fort Benning I too had heard the "Geneva convention and 
white phosphorous on equipment" line during the artillery pitch 
in Officer Candidate School, the Infantry Officer Basic Course, 
Ranger school, and the Infantry Mortar Platoon Officers Course. 
The treatment of POWs had been addressed by an instructor at 
Ranger school, and he clearly communicated his personal belief 
that in a raid or an ambush, a patrol could not be expected to 
take POWs. I had noted that most of the outstanding young soldiers 
coming to us from the Ranger Battalion shared this Ranger-school 

A Solution: "I'll Shoot You Myself" 

To confront this belief I said basically, "If the enemy finds just 
one massacre, like our soldiers did at Malmedy in the Battle of 
the Bulge, then thousands of enemy soldiers will swear never to 
surrender, and they'll be very tough to fight. Just like our troops 
were in the Battle of the Bulge when word got around that the 
Germans were shooting POWs. In addition, that's all the excuse 
the enemy needs to kill our captured soldiers. So by murdering a 
few prisoners, who were just poor, tired soldiers like you, you'll 
make the enemy force a damn-sight tougher, and cause the deaths — 
murders — of a whole bunch of our boys. 

"On the other hand, if you disarm, tie up, and leave a POW 
out in a clearing somewhere because you can't take him with you, 
then the word will spread that Americans treat POWs honorably, 
even when the chips are down, and a whole bunch of scared, tired 
soldiers will surrender rather than die. In World War II an entire 
Soviet army corps defected to the Germans. The Germans were 
treating Soviet POWs like dogs, and yet a whole corps came over 
to their side. How would they behave if they faced a humane 

"The last thing you ought to know is that if J ever catch any 
of you heroes killing a POW, /'// shoot you right on the spot. 
Because it's illegal, because it's wrong, because it's dumb, and it's 
one of the wont things you could do to help us win a war." 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 205 

I didn't bother to include the possibility of organizing Soviet 
POWs and defectors into combat units and the very real importance 
of capturing POWs for intelligence purposes. 

The Lesson and the Greater Problem 

The most important point here is that nobody has ever pointed 
out to me the potential repercussions of improper POW handling. 
No leader of mine has ever stood up and clearly stated this position 
to me and defended it. In fact, the opposite has occurred. As a 
private and a sergeant, I have had enlisted superiors strongly defend 
the execution of POWs whenever it was inconvenient to take 
them alive, and at the time I accepted it as reasonable. But they 
never made me understand the vital importance and the deadly 
ramifications of POW handling (or mishandling) on the batdefield 
because I think they themselves did not understand. 

On the next batdefield our soldiers may commit war crimes 
and thereby cause us to lose one of the basic combat multipliers 
that we have available to us: the tendency of an oppressed people 
to become disloyal to their nation. 

One interviewer of World War II POWs told me that German 
soldiers repeatedly told him that relatives with World War I combat 
experience had advised, "Be brave, join the infantry, and surrender 
to the first American you see." The American reputation for fair 
play and respect for human life had survived over generations, and 
the decent actions of American soldiers in World War I had saved 
the lives of many soldiers in World War II. 

This is America's position on the role of atrocity in combat, 
and this is the logic behind it. But there is another position that 
many nations have taken on the use of atrocity in warfare, and 
there is another logic to be considered. This other logic is the 
twisted logic of atrocity, which we must understand if we are to 
completely understand killing. 

The Empowerment 

War ... has no power to transform, it merely exaggerates the good 
and evil that are in us. 

— Lord Moran 

Anatomy of Courage 

206 Killing and Atrocities 

Empowerment Through Death 

The first time I saw a soldier plummet to his death in a parachute 
jump it took years to sort out my emotions. Part of me was horrified 
at this soldier's death, but as I watched him fight his tangled reserve 
chute all the way down another part of me was filled with pride. 
His death validated and affirmed all that I believe about paratroop- 
ers, who stare death in the face daily. That brave, doomed soldier 
became a living sacrifice to the spirit of the airborne. 

After talking to my fellow paratroopers and drinking a toast to 
the memory of our departed comrade, I began to understand that 
his death had magnified our own belief in the danger, nobility, and 
superiority inherent in our elite unit. Instead of being diminished by 
his loss, we were strangely magnified and empowered by it. 1 This 
phenomenon is not limited to, although it is always present in, 
elite fighting groups. Nations celebrate their costliest battles, even 
losing ones — the Alamo, Pickett's Charge, Dunkerque, Wake 
Island, and Leningrad are examples — due to the bravery and 
nobility of the sacrifices involved. 

Empowerment Through Atrocity 

As churlish as it might be to compare the death of a paratrooper 
in an airborne action with the sacrifice of the Jews in World War 
II, I believe that the same process that existed in me when I saw 
a soldier die exists in a greatly magnified form among those who 
commit atrocities. 

The Holocaust is sometimes misunderstood as the senseless kill- 
ing of Jews and innocent people. But this killing was not senseless. 
Vile and evil, but not senseless. Such murders have a very powerful 
but twisted logic of their own. A logic that we must understand 
if we are to confront it. 

There are many benefits reaped by those who tap the dark 
power of atrocity. Those who engage in a policy of atrocity usually 
strike a bargain that exchanges their future for a brief gain in the 
present. Though brief, that gain is nonetheless real and powerful. 
In order to understand the attraction of atrocity, we must under- 
stand and clearly acknowledge those benefits that cause individuals, 
groups, and nations to turn to it. 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 207 


One of the most obvious and blatant benefits of atrocity is that it 
quite simply scares the hell out of people. The raw horror and 
savagery of those who murder and abuse cause people to flee, 
hide, and defend themselves feebly, and often their victims respond 
with mute passivity. We see this in the newspapers daily when 
we read of victims who are faced with mass murderers and simply 
do nothing to protect themselves or others. Hannah Arendt noted 
this failure to resist the Nazis in her study The Banality of Evil. 

JeffCooper, writing from experience in criminology, comments 
on this tendency in civilian life: 

Any study of the atrocity list of recent years — Starkweather, Speck, 
Manson, Richard Hickok and Cary Smith, et al — shows immedi- 
ately that the victims, by their appalling ineptitude and timidity, 
virtually assisted in their own murders. . . . 

Any man who is a man may not, in honor, submit to threats of 
violence. But many men who are not cowards are simply unpre- 
pared for the fact of human savagery. They have not thought about 
it (incredible as this may appear to anyone who reads the papers 
or listens to the news) and they just don't know what to do. When 
they look right into the face of depravity or violence they are 
astonished and confounded. 

This process that empowers criminals and outcasts in society can 
work even better when institutionalized as policy by revolutionary 
organization, armies, and governments. North Vietnam and its 
Vietcong proxies represent one force that blatantly used atrocity 
as a policy and was triumphant because of it. In 1959, 250 South 
Vietnamese officials were assassinated by the Vietcong. The Viet- 
cong found that assassination was easy, it was cheap, and it worked. 
A year later this toll of murder and horror went up to 1 ,400, and 
it continued for twelve more years. 

Throughout these years the attrition warfare advocates in the 
United States visited impotent, futile bombings upon the North. 
The methodology and targets of these bombings made them very 
ineffectual compared with the strategic bombing conducted in 
World War II, yet our own post- World War II studies showed 

208 Killing and Atrocities 

that in England and Germany litde was accomplished by such 
bombings except to steel the resolve of the enemy. 

But while the United States was fruidessly bombing the North, 
the North was efficiently murdering the infrastructure of the South, 
one by one in their beds and homes. As we have seen before, 
death from twenty thousand feet is strangely impersonal and psy- 
chologically impotent. But death up close and personal, visiting 
the manifest intensity of the enemy's Wind of Hate upon its 
victims, such death can be hideously effective at sapping the will 
of the enemy and ultimately achieving victory: 

A squad with a death order entered the house of a prominent 
community leader and shot him, his wife, his married son, and 
daughter-in-law, a male and female servant and their baby. The 
family cat was strangled, the family dog was clubbed to death, and 
the goldfish scooped out of the fishbowl and tossed onto the floor. 
When the communists left, no life remained in the house — a 
"family unit" had been eliminated. 

— Jim Graves 
"The Tangled Web" 

There is a simple, horrifying, and obvious value resident in atrocity. 
The Mongols were able to make entire nations submit without a 
fight just on the basis of their reputation for exterminating whole 
cities and nations that had resisted them in the past. The term 
"terrorist" simply means "one who uses terror," and we don't 
have to look very far — around the world or back in history — to 
find instances of individuals and nations who have succeeded in 
achieving power through the ruthless and effective use of terror. 

Killing Empowerment 

Mass murder and execution can be sources of mass empowerment. 
It is as if a pact with the devil had been made, and a host of 
evil demons had lived and thrived on the victims of the Nazi SS 
(to select just one example), empowering its nation with an evil 
strength as a reward for its blood sacrifices. Each killing affirmed and 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 209 

validated in blood the demon of Nazi racial superiority — thereby 
establishing a powerful pseudospeciation (categorizing a victim as 
an inferior species) based on moral distance, social distance, and 
cultural distance. 

Dyer's book War has a remarkable photograph of Japanese sol- 
diers bayoneting Chinese prisoners. Prisoners in an endless line 
are in a deep ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind 
their backs. Along the banks of the ditch stands another endless 
line of Japanese soldiers with bayonets fixed on their rifles. One by 
one these soldiers go down into the ditch and inflict the "intimate 
brutality" of the bayonet on a prisoner. The prisoners hang their 
heads in dull acceptance and mute horror. Those being bayoneted 
have their faces contorted in agony. Remarkably, the killers have 
their faces contorted in a way similar to their victims. 

In these execution situations strong forces of moral distance, 
social distance, cultural distance, group absolution, close proximity, 
and obedience-demanding authority all join to compel the soldier 
to execute, overcoming the forlorn forces of his natural and learned 
decency and his natural resistance to killing. 

Each soldier who actively or passively participates in such mass 
executions is faced with a stark choice. On the one hand, the 
soldier can resist the incredibly powerful array of forces that call 
for him to kill, and he will instantly be denied by his nation, his 
leaders, and his friends and will most likely be executed along with 
the other victims of this horror. On the other hand, the soldier 
can bow before the social and psychological forces that demand 
that he kill, and in doing so he will be strangely empowered. 

The soldier who does kill must overcome that part of him that 
says that he is a murderer of women and children, a foul beast 
who has done the unforgivable. He must deny the guilt within 
him, and he must assure himself that the world is not mad, that 
his victims are less than animals, that they are evil vermin, and 
that what his nation and his leaders have told him to do is right. 

He must believe that not only is this atrocity right, but it is proof 
that he is morally, socially, and culturally superior to those whom 
he has killed. It is the ultimate act of denial of their humanity. It 

210 Killing and Atrocities 

is the ultimate act of affirmation of his superiority. And the killer 
must violently suppress any dissonant thought that he has done 
anything wrong. Further, he must violently attack anyone or any- 
thing that would threaten his beliefs. His mental health is totally 
invested in believing that what he has done is good and right. 

It is the blood of his victims that binds and empowers him to 
even greater heights of killing and slaughter. And when we realize 
that this same basic empowering process is what motivates satanic 
murders and other such cult killings, the analogy of a satanic pact 
is not as strange as it seems. This is the strength, the power, and 
the attraction that have resided in human sacrifices over millennia. 

Bonding to Leaders and Peers 

Those who command atrocities are powerfully bonded by guilt 
to those who commit atrocities, and to their cause, since only the 
success of their cause can ensure that they will not have to answer 
for their actions. With totalitarian dictators, it is their secret police 
and other such Praetorian guard-type units who can be counted 
on to fight for their leader and their cause to the bitter end. Nicolae 
Ceaus,escu's state police in Romania and Hitler's SS units are two 
examples of units bonded to their leaders by atrocity. 

By ensuring that their men participate in atrocities, totalitarian 
leaders can also ensure that for these minions there is no possibility 
of reconciliation with the enemy. They are inextricably finked to 
the fate of their leader. Trapped in their logic and their guilt, those 
who commit atrocities see no alternatives other than total victory 
or total defeat in a great Gotterdammerung. 

In the absence of a legitimate threat, leaders (be they national 
leaders or gang leaders) may designate a scapegoat whose defilement 
and innocent blood empowers the killers and bonds them to their 
leaden. Traditionally, high-visibility weak groups and minorities — 
such as Jews and blacks — have filled this role. 

Women have also been defiled, debased, and dehumanized for 
the aggrandizement of others. Throughout history women have 
been probably the greatest single group of victims of this empow- 
erment process. Rape is a very important part of the process of 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 211 

dominating and dehumanizing an enemy; and this process of mu- 
tual empowering and bonding at the expense of others is exacdy 
what occurs during gang rapes. In war, empowerment and bonding 
through such gang rapes often occur on a national level. 

The German-Russian conflict during World War II is an excel- 
lent example of a vicious cycle in which both sides became totally 
invested in atrocity and rape. This reached the point at which, 
according to Albert Seaton, Soviet soldiers attacking Germany were 
told that they were not accountable for civil crimes committed in 
Germany and that personal property and German women were 
theirs by right. 

The incidence of rape as a result of these encouragements appears 
to have been in the millions. Cornelius Ryan, in The Last Battle, 
estimated that there were one hundred thousand births resulting 
from rapes in Berlin alone following World War II. In recent years 
we have seen the use of rape as a political tool by the Serbs in 
Bosnia. The thing to understand here is that gang rapes and gang 
or cult killings in times of peace and war are not "senseless vio- 
lence." They are instead powerful acts of group bonding and 
criminal enabling that, quite often, have a hidden purpose of 
promoting the wealth, power, or vanity of a specific leader or 
cause ... at the expense of the innocent. 

Atrocity and Denial 

The sheer horror of atrocity serves not only to terrify those who 
must face it, but also to generate disbelief in distant observers. 
Whether it is ritual cult killings in our society or mass murders by 
established governments in the world at large, the common re- 
sponse is often one of total disbelief. And the nearer it hits home, 
the harder we want to disbelieve it. 

Most Americans have been able to accept the millions of murders 
committed by Nazi Germany because our soldiers were there and 
were personally exposed to the Nazi death camps. Eyewitness 
accounts, films, a vocal and powerful Jewish community, and 
shrines at death camps like Dachau and Auschwitz all combine to 
make it almost impossible to deny the horror. Yet even in the 

212 Killing and Atrocities 

face of all this evidence, there is a bizarre minority in our nation 
that truly believes that it never happened. 

The sheer awfulness of atrocity makes us wish it away, and 
when we are faced with events such as genocide in Cambodia we 
would rather turn our heads. David Horowitz, a 1960s radical, 
writes about how this denial process occurred in him and his friends: 

I and my former comrades in the Left dismissed the anti-Soviet 
"lies" about Stalinist repression. In the society we hailed as a new 
human dawn, 100 million people were put in slave-labor camps, 
in conditions rivaling Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Between 30 
and 40 million people were killed in peacetime in the daily routine 
of socialist rule. While Leftists applauded their progressive policies 
and guarded their frontiers, Soviet Marxists killed more peasants, 
more workers, and even more communists than all the capitalist 
governments combined since the beginning of time. 

And for the entire duration of this nightmare, the William Buck- 
leys and Ronald Reagans and other anti-communists went on 
telling the world exacdy what was happening. And all that time 
the pro-Soviet Left went on denouncing them as reactionaries and 
liars, using the same contemptuous terms. . . . 

The left would still be denying the Soviet atrocities if the perpe- 
trators themselves had not finally acknowledged their crime. 

Although this is a most remarkable example of naivete, a significant 
and vocal minority in America was trapped in this program of self- 
deception. Those who were deceived are mainly good, decent, 
highly educated men and women. It is their very goodness and 
decency that cause them to be so completely incapable of believing 
that someone or something they approve of could be so completely 
evil. Perhaps denial of mass atrocity is tied to our innate resistance 
to killing. Just as one hesitates to kill in the face of extreme pressure 
and despite the threat of violence, one has difficulty imagin- 
ing — and believing — the existence of atrocity despite the exis- 
tence of facts. 

But we must not deny it. If we look around the world carefully 
we will find somebody somewhere wielding the dark power of 
atrocity to support a cause that we believe in. It is a simple tenet 

The Dark Power of Atrocity 213 

of human nature that it is difficult to believe and accept that anyone 
we like and identify with is capable of these acts against our fellow 
human beings. And this simple, naive tendency to disbelieve or 
look the other way is, possibly more than any other factor, responsi- 
ble for the perpetuation of atrocity and horror in our world today. 

Chapter Three 

The Entrapment of Atrocity 

"The Horror! The Horror!" 

— Kurtz 

in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness 2 

Despite its short-term benefits, atrocity as policy is normally (but 
not always) self-destructive. Unfortunately this self-destruction 
usually does not occur in time to save its immediate victims 

The process of bonding men by forcing them to commit an 
atrocity requires a foundation of legitimacy for it to continue for 
any length of time. The authority of a state (as in Stalinist Russia 
or Nazi Germany), a state religion (as in the emperor worship of 
imperial Japan), a heritage of barbarism and cruelty that diminishes 
the value of individual human life (as existed among the Mongol 
Hordes, in imperial China, and in many other ancient civilizations), 
and economic pressures combined with years of prior experience 
and group bonding (as in the KKK and street gangs) are all examples 
of varying forms of "legitimizing" factors that, singly or combined, 
can ensure the continuing commission of atrocities. They also, 
however, contain the seeds of their own destruction. 

Once a group undergoes the process of bonding and empow- 
erment through atrocity, then its members are entrapped in it, as 
it turns every other force that is aware of their nature against them. 

The Entrapment of Atrocity 215 

Of course, those who commit atrocities understand that what they 
are doing will be considered criminal by the rest of the world, 
and this is why at the level of nation-states they attempt to control 
their population and press. 

Still, controlling people and knowledge is only a stopgap mea- 
sure, particularly as ubiquitous electronic communication becomes 
widely available. The existence of the Nazi Holocaust and the 
Soviet Gulag were debated, and instant worldwide television trans- 
missions of the Tiananmen Square Massacre allowed the Chinese 
Communist regime no denials. 

Burning Bridges and One-Way Streets 

Forcing men to commit atrocities is much easier than getting them 
to accept the atrocity as a bonding and empowering process. But 
once they have accepted the empowering process and firmly be- 
lieve that their enemy is less than human and is deserving of 
what has happened to him, then they are stuck in a profound 
psychological trap. 

Many students of German conduct during World War II are 
puzzled by the paradox of the Nazis' handling of the war against 
Russia. On the one hand the Nazis had a remarkably competent 
war-fighting organization, while on the other hand they failed to 
capitalize on opportunities to "liberate" the Ukraine and convert 
defecting Soviet units to their cause. The problem was that the Nazis 
were entrapped by the very thing that enabled them. Their racist, atrocity- 
based denial of the humanity of their enemies made their forces 
powerful in battle, while it simultaneously prevented them from 
treating anyone other than an "Aryan" as a human being. Initially 
the Ukrainian people greeted the Nazis as liberators, and Soviet 
forces surrendered en masse, but they soon began to realize that 
there was something that was even worse than Stalinist Russia. 

For now it would appear that atrocity has succeeded as policy 
in China and in Bosnia. In Vietnam, the North won by using 
atrocity. And for decades the Soviets stayed in power in Russia 
and Eastern Europe by wielding the dark power of atrocity. But 
in most cases those who attempt to wield atrocity as a systematic 
national policy have been struck down by this two-edged sword. 

216 Killing and Atrocities 

Those who choose the path of atrocity have burned their bridges 
behind them. There is no turning back. 

Enabling the Enemy 

During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, a German SS 
unit massacred a group of American POWs at Malmedy. Word 
of this massacre spread like wildfire through the American forces, 
and thousands of soldiers resolved never to surrender to the Ger- 
mans. Conversely, as was mentioned earlier, many Germans who 
would fight the Russians to their last breath made a point of 
surrendering to the Americans at the earliest honorable occasion. 
Those who commit atrocities have burned their bridges behind 
them and know that they cannot surrender, but even as they have 
enabled themselves, they have enabled their enemies. 

And so we have seen a few of the limitations of atrocity. But 
all these negative aspects do not really address the most important 
and difficult manifestation of committing acts of atrocity. The 
worst part is that when you institute and execute a policy of 
atrocity, you and your society must live with what you have done. 
But before we conclude this section by examining the psychologi- 
cal toll taken by atrocity, let us first briefly examine a case study 
in atrocity. 

Chapter Four 

A Case Study in Atrocity 

This is a firsthand account of the psychological response of a 
Canadian soldier who was confronted with the vilest possible aspect 
of atrocity while serving in the UN peacekeeping force sent to 
the Congo in 1963. It is not pretty. It was written under the 
nom de plume Alan Stuart-Smyth. Colonel Stuart-Smyth served 
twenty-three years as a UN peacekeeper, progressing in rank from 
private to full colonel. Wounded twice, he was awarded the UN 
medal, a mention in dispatches, the Canadian Decoration, and the 
Distinguished Service Order. After retirement in 1986 he was 
offered, and accepted, a professorship at a major American univer- 
sity, where he taught criminology for two years. 

Note the two-edged sword of atrocity here. Note the way in 
which it both enables and entraps the killers in this case, and then 
note the way that their atrocity enables the soldier who must kill 
someone caught in the act of atrocity: 

As I approached the building the sound of moaning, punctuated 
by deep laughs, was clearly audible. The rear of the church con- 
tained two small dirty windows at eye level, through which I 
looked. Although the interior of the church was dark by comparison 
with the blazing outdoors sunlight, I could pick out the forms of 
two naked black men torturing a young white woman whom I 
assumed to be a nun or teacher. She had been stripped naked and 

218 Killing and Atrocities 

was stretched out in the aisle of the church, arms pulled tightly 
over her head by one of the rebels, while the other knelt on 
her stomach and repeatedly touched her nipples with a burning 
cigarette. She had burn marks on her face and neck as well. Uni- 
forms of the Katangese Gendarmerie were thrown over the back 
of a pew, and female garments were scattered near the door. A 
. . . carbine lay in the aisle beside the young woman. Another rifle 
had been left leaning against the wall near the uniforms. There 
appeared to be no one else present in the church. . . . 

On my signal we burst into the cathedral, our weapons on 
full auto. 

"Stand still," I bellowed. "U.N. troops; you're under arrest." I 
didn't want to do it that way, but damn it, I was still a soldier, 
and subject to Queen's Regulations and Orders. 

The rebels bounded to their feet to face us, eyes staring wildly. 
I carried a Sterling 9mm SMG [submachine gun] . . . which I 
leveled at the two naked men. We were no more than 15 feet apart. 

The one who had been holding the nun's arms was visibly 
shaking with fear, his eyes flying uncontrollably about the room. 
In a second they rested on the rifle lying in the aisle. The nun had 
rolled onto her stomach, clutching her breasts and rocking from 
side to side, moaning in pain. 

"Don't be a fool, man," I cautioned. But he did it anyway. 

In a burst of panic he emitted a loud, piercing wail and dove 
for the rifle. Landing on his knees he grabbed the weapon, and 
turning his terrified face to mine, attempting to bring his weapon 
to bear. My first burst caught him in the face, the second full in 
the chest. He was dead before he fell over, a body missing most 
of its head. 

The second terrorist began to wave his arms frantically up and 
down, like a featherless black bird attempting to take flight. His 
eyes kept flitting back and forth between the muzzle of the Sterling 
and his own weapon, which was leaning against the wall a good 
10 feet away. . . . 

"Don't do it, don't do it," I ordered. But he emitted a loud 
"Yaaa . . . ," and scrambled for the rifle. I warned him again but 

A Case Study in Atrocity 219 

he grabbed the weapon, worked the action to place a round in 
the chamber, and began to swing the muzzle toward me. 

"KILL HIM, GODDAMMIT," screamed Cpl Edgerton, who 
had now entered the church behind us, "KILL HIM, NOW!" 

The rebel terrorist was now fully facing me, desperately at- 
tempting to swing the long barrel of the bolt-action rifle across his 
body to align it with my chest. His eyes locked on mine — wild, 
frantic eyes surrounded by fields of white. They never left mine, 
not even when the powerful SMG rounds tore into his stomach, 
walked up his chest, and cut the carotid artery on the left side of 
his neck. His body hit the floor with a thud, blown apart by the 
blast of the Sterling, and still the eyes remained riveted to mine. 
Then his body relaxed and the eyes dilated, blind in death. . . . 

Prior to Okonda, I had not killed a human being. That is, I did 
not know for sure that I had killed. When one is firing at moving, 
shadowy figures in the confusion of battle one cannot be certain 
of the results. At Bridge 19 I had killed many men when I detonated 
the charges, blowing an enemy convoy to kingdom come, but 
somehow the incident was not psychologically close. They were 
a long way off, and the cover of night hid their shapes and move- 
ment, their very humanity. But here at Okonda it was different. 
The two men I killed were practically within arm's reach, I could 
see their facial expressions clearly, even hear their breathing, see 
their fear, and smell their body odor. And the funny thing was 
that / didn't feel a damn thing! . . . [Stuart-Smyth's emphasis] 

There had been two nuns at Okonda: the young one we saved, 
and the older one we didn't. When I first entered the church I 
was standing slighdy behind the altar, and off to the left side. From 
that position I couldn't see the front of the altar, a rather large 
affair made of rough-hewn wood with a cross towering above it. 
Perhaps it was a good thing I could not, for the rebels had used 
the altar to butcher the old nun. 

They had stripped her naked, but had not assaulted her sexually, 
probably because she was elderly, and obese. Instead they sat her 
upright with her back to the altar, and nailed her hands to it in 
apparent mimicry of the crucifixion. Then they cut off her breasts 

220 Killing and Atrocities 

with a bayonet and, in a final act of savagery, drove the bayonet 
through her mouth into the altar behind, impaling her in an upright 
position. Evidence of a struggle showed that she had not died 
instandy from the bayonet wound, but had probably succumbed 
to the loss of blood from the wounds on her chest. She had a 
white man's penis and testicles shoved partially in her vagina. Her 
severed breasts were not present. 

We found the owner of the male genitalia tied spread-eagle in 
the middle of the village compound, with the nun's breasts attached 
to his chest with sharpened sticks. . . . 

Before we departed Okonda the young nun asked to meet the 
soldier who had saved her life. She was clothed now, and had 
cleaned up a little bit with the help of our medic. I was surprised 
how young she was — early 20s or younger. . . . She required a 
number of sutures in her vagina, and would need burn treatments 
as well. I didn't admire her decision to remain in enemy territory 
when she was given ample opportunity to leave, but I did admire 
her spunk. When we met she looked me in the eye and said, "Thank 
God you came." She had been badly beaten, but not defeated. 

As for me, I had turned 19 only two days previous, and still 
suffered from the native upbringing of a good Christian family. I 
lost a lot of that upbringing at Okonda. There was no honor here, 
no virtue. The standards of behavior taught in the homes, churches, 
and schools of America had no place in battle. They were mythical 
concepts good only for the raising of children, to be cast aside 
forever from this moment on. No, I didn't feel guilt, shame, or 
remorse at killing my fellow man — I felt pride! 

— Alan Stuart-Smyth 
"Congo Horror" 

There are numerous examples of atrocity committed by nearly all 
national, racial, and ethnic groups, but this example is one of the 
best, clearest, and most literate representations of the killology 
aspects of atrocity. 

Many of the factors and processes that we have discussed — or 
will be discussing shortly — can be observed clearly in this case 
study. We see the rapists' instinctive lashing out and defiling of 

A Case Study in Atrocity 221 

all that is held dear by those they consider to be their oppressors. 
We see that the rapists' atrocity has enraged and empowered their 
opponent. We see the rapists entrapped in atrocity: caught red- 
handed and knowing that if they surrender they will be executed, 
they have no option but to try to fight. We see Stuart-Smyth's 
reluctance to kill these men even in the face of their atrocities. 
We see the low target attractiveness associated with the ludicrous 
and harmless sight of a naked man with his arms waving "frantically 
up and down, like a featherless black bird attempting to take flight." 
We see the role of obedience-demanding authority in that even 
in the face of all this provocation Stuart-Smyth must be ordered 
to kill. We see a diffusion of responsibility in that the individual 
giving the order to kill did not fire his weapon. We can see 
the development of Stuart-Smyth's rationalization and acceptance 
process as he first says, "I didn't feel a damn thing!" and later 
contradicts this statement by saying, "I didn't feel guilt, shame, 
or remorse at killing my fellow man — I felt pride!" And we 
can see that Stuart-Smyth's rationalization and acceptance was 
greatly assisted by the fact that the men he killed were commit- 
ting atrocities. 

We see all these things. But most of all, as we see them, we see 
the powerful process of atrocity at work in the lives of the individu- 
als playing out their parts in this tiny microcosm of war. 

Chapter Five 

The Greatest Trap of All: To Live with That 
Which Thou Hath Wrought 

The Price and Process of Atrocity 

The psychological trauma of riving with what one has done to 
one's fellow man may represent the most significant toll taken by 
atrocity. Those who commit atrocity have made a Faustian bargain 
with evil. They have sold their conscience, their future, and their 
peace of mind for a brief, fleeting, self-destructive advantage. 

Sections of this study have been devoted to examining the 
remarkable power of man's resistance to kill, to the psychological 
leverage and manipulation required to get men to kill, and to the 
trauma resulting from it. Once we have taken all of these things 
into consideration, then we can see that the psychological burden 
of committing atrocities must be tremendous. 

But let me make it absolutely clear that this examination of the 
trauma associated with killing is in no way intended to belittle or 
downplay the horror and trauma of those who have suffered from 
atrocities. The focus here is to obtain an understanding of the pro- 
cesses associated with atrocity, an understanding that is in no way 
intended to slight the pain and suffering of atrocity's victims. 

The Greatest Trap of All 223 

The Cost of Compliance . . . 

The killer can be empowered by his killing, but ultimately, often 
years later, he may bear the emotional burden of guilt that he has 
buried with his acts. This guilt becomes virtually unavoidable when 
the killer's side has lost and must answer for its actions — which, 
as we have seen, is one of the reasons that forcing participation 
in atrocities is such a strangely effective way of motivating men 
in combat. 

Here we see a German soldier who, years later, has to face the 
enormity of his actions: 

[He] retains a stark image of the burning of some peasant huts in 
Russia, their owners still inside them. "We saw the children and 
the women with their babies and then I heard the poouff — the 
flame had broken through the thatched roof and there was a yellow- 
brown smoke column going up into the air. It didn't hit me all 
that much then, but when I think of it now — I slaughtered those 
people. I murdered them." 

— John Keegan and Richard Holmes 

The guilt and trauma of an average human being who is forced 
to murder innocent civilians don't necessarily have to wait years 
before they well up into revulsion and rebellion. Sometimes, the 
executioner cannot resist the forces that cause him to kill, but the 
still, small voice of humanity and guilt wins out shortly thereafter. 
And if the soldier truly acknowledges the magnitude of his crime, 
he must rebel violently. As a World War II intelligence officer, 
Glenn Gray interviewed a German defector who was morally 
awakened by his participation in an execution: 

I shall always remember the face of a German soldier when he 
described such a drastic awakening. ... At the time we picked him 
up for investigation ... in 1944, he was fighting with the French 
Maquis against his own people. To my question concerning his 
motives for deserting to the French Resistance, he responded by 
describing his earlier involvement in German reprisal raids against 

224 Killing and Atrocities 

the French. On one such raid, his unit was ordered to burn a 
village and allow none of the villagers to escape. ... As he told 
how women and children were shot as they fled screaming from 
the flames of their burning homes, the soldier's face was contorted 
in painful fashion and he was nearly unable to breathe. It was 
quite clear that this extreme experience had shocked him into full 
awareness of his own guilt, a guilt he feared he would never atone. 
At the moment of that awakening he did not have the courage or 
resolution to hinder the massacre, but his desertion to the Resistance 
soon after was evidence of a radically new course. 

On rare occasions those who are commanded to execute human 
beings have the remarkable moral fiber necessary to stare directly 
into the face of the obedience-demanding authority and refuse to 
kill. These situations represent such a degree of moral courage that 
they sometimes become legendary. Precise narratives of a soldier's 
personal kills are usually very hard to extract in an interview, but 
in the case of individuals who refused to participate in acts that 
they considered to be wrong, the soldiers are usually extremely 
proud of their actions and are pleased to tell their story. 

Earlier in this study, we saw the World War I veteran who took 
tremendous pride in "outsmarting" the army and intentionally 
missing while a member of a firing squad, and we saw the Contra 
mercenary who was overjoyed that he and his comrades spontane- 
ously decided to intentionally miss a boat full of civilians. A veteran 
of the Christian militia in Lebanon had several personal kills that 
he was quite willing to tell me about, but he also had a situation 
in which he was ordered to fire on a car and refused to do so. He 
was unsure of who was in the car, and he was proud to say that 
he actually went to the stockade rather than kill in this situation. 

All of us would like to believe that we would not participate 
in atrocities. That we could deny our friends and leaders and even 
turn our weapons on them if need be. But there are profound 
processes involved that prevent such confrontation of peers and 
leaders in atrocity circumstance. The first involves group absolution 
and peer pressure. 

The Greatest Trap of All 225 

In a way, the obedience-demanding authority, the killer, and 
his peers are all diffusing the responsibility among themselves. The 
authority is protected from the trauma of, and responsibility for, 
killing because others do the dirty work. The killer can rationalize 
that the responsibility really belongs to the authority and that his 
guilt is diffused among everyone who stands beside him and pulls 
the trigger with him. This diffusion of responsibility and group 
absolution of guilt is the basic psychological leverage that makes 
all firing squads and most atrocity situations function. 

Group absolution can work within a group of strangers (as in 
a firing-squad situation), but if an individual is bonded to the 
group, then peer pressure interacts with group absolution in such 
a way as to almost force atrocity participation. Thus it is extraordi- 
narily difficult for a man who is bonded by links of mutual affection 
and interdependence to break away and openly refuse to participate 
in what the group is doing, even if it is killing innocent women 
and children. 

Another powerful process that ensures compliance in atrocity 
situations is the impact of terrorism and self-preservation. The 
shock and horror of seeing unprovoked violent death meted out 
creates a deep atavistic fear in human beings. Through atrocity 
the oppressed population can be numbed into a learned helplessness 
state of submission and compliance. The effect on the atrocity- 
committing soldiers appears to be very similar. Human life is pro- 
foundly cheapened by these acts, and the soldier realizes that one 
of the lives that has been cheapened is his own. 

At some level the soldier says, "There but for the grace of God 
go I," and he recognizes with a deep gut-level empathy that one 
of those screaming, twitching, flopping, bleeding, horror-struck 
human bodies could very easily be his. 

. . . And the Cost of Noncompliance 

Glenn Gray notes what may have been one of the most remarkable 
refusals to participate in an atrocity in recorded history: 

In the Netherlands, the Dutch tell of a German soldier who was a 
member of an execution squad ordered to shoot innocent hostages. 

226 Killing and Atrocities 

Suddenly he stepped out of rank and refused to participate in the 
execution. On the spot he was charged with treason by the officer 
in charge and was placed with the hostages, where he was prompdy 
executed by his comrades. In an act the soldier has abandoned 
once and for all the security of the group and exposed himself to 
the ultimate demands of freedom. He responded in the crucial 
moment to the voice of conscience and was no longer driven by 
external commands ... we can only guess what must have been 
the influence of his deed on slayers and slain. At all events, it was 
surely not slight, and those who hear of the episode cannot fail to 
be inspired. 

Here, in its finest form, we see the potential for goodness that 
exists in all human beings. Overcoming group pressure, obedience- 
demanding authority, and the instinct of self-preservation, this 
German soldier gives us hope for mankind and makes us just a 
little proud to be of the same race. This, ultimately, may be the 
price of noncompliance for those men of conscience trapped in a 
group or nation that is, itself, trapped in the dead-end horror of 
the atrocity cycle. 

The Greatest Challenge of All: To Pay the Price of Freedom 

Let us set for ourselves a standard so high that it will be a glory 
to live up to it, and then let us live up to it and add a new laurel 
to the crown of America. 

— Woodrow Wilson 

In the same way, every soldier who refuses to kill in combat, 
secretly or openly, represents the latent potential for nobility in 
mankind. And yet it is a paradoxically dangerous potential if the 
forces of freedom and humanity must face those whose unrestrained 
killing is empowered by atrocities. 

The "good" that is not willing to overcome its resistance to 
killing in the face of an undeniable "evil" may be ultimately 
destined for destruction. Those who cherish liberty, justice, and 
truth must recognize that there is another force at large in this 
world. There is a twisted logic and power resident in the forces 

The Greatest Trap of All 227 

of oppression, injustice, and deceit, but those who claim this power 
are trapped in a spiral of destruction and denial that must ultimately 
destroy them and any victims they can pull with them into the 

Those who value individual human life and dignity must recog- 
nize from whence they draw their strength, and if they are forced 
to make war they must do so with as much concern for innocent 
lives as humanly possible. They must not be tempted or antagonized 
into treading the treacherous and counterproductive path of atroci- 
ties. For, as Gray put it, "their brutality made fighting the Germans 
much easier, whereas ours weakened the will and confused the 
intellect." Unless a group is prepared to totally dedicate itself to 
the twisted logic of atrocity, it will not gain even the shortsighted 
advantages of that logic, but will instead be immediately weakened 
and confused by its own inconsistency and hypocrisy. There are 
no half measures when one sells one's soul. 

Atrocity — this close-range murder of the innocent and help- 
less — is the most repulsive aspect of war, and that which resides 
within man and permits him to perform these acts is the most 
repulsive aspect of mankind. We must not permit ourselves to be 
attracted to it. Nor can we, in our revulsion, ignore it. Ultimately 
the purpose of this section, and of this study, has been to look at 
this ugliest aspect of war, that we might know it, name it, and 
confront it. 

This let us pray for, this implore: 
That all base dreams thrust out at door, 

We may in loftier aims excel 

And, like men waking from a spell, 
Grow stronger, nobler, than before, 

When there is Peace. 

— Austin Dobson, World War I veteran 
"When There Is Peace" 


The Killing Response Stages: 
What Does It Feel Like to Kill? 

Chapter One 

The Killing Response Stages 

What Does It Feel Like to Kill? 

In the 1970s Elisabeth Kiibler-Ross published her famous research 
on death which revealed that when people are dying they often 
go through a series of emotional stages, including denial, anger, 
bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the historical narratives 
I have read, and in my interviews with veterans over the last two 
decades, I have found a similar series of emotional response stages 
to killing in combat. 

The basic response stages to killing in combat are concern about 
killing, the actual kill, exhilaration, remorse, and rationalization 
and acceptance. Like Elisabeth Kiibler-Ross's famous stages in 
response to death and dying, these stages are generally sequential 
but not necessarily universal. Thus, some individuals may skip 
certain stages, or blend them, or pass through them so fleetingly 
that they do not even acknowledge their presence. 

Many veterans have told me that this process is similar to — but 
much more powerful than — that experienced by many first-time 
deer hunters: concern over the possibility of getting buck fever 
(i.e., failing to fire when an opportunity arises); the actual kill, 
occurring almost without thinking; the exhilaration and self-praise 
after a kill; brief remorse and revulsion (many lifelong woodsmen 
still become ill while gutting and cleaning a deer). And finally 


The Killing Response Stages 

I . Concern 
about being 
able to kill 

I f. Fixation 

with ability 

to kill 



2. Killing 

2a. Inability 
to kill 

2f. Fixation 

with inability 

to kill 

3. Exhilaration 
from kill 

3f. Fixation 




5. Rationalization and 
Acceptance process 

4. Remorse 

and nausea 

from kill 

4f. Fixation 

with remorse 

and guilt 

The Killing Response Stages 

Sa. Rationalization 



the acceptance and rationalization process — which in this case is 
completed by eating the game and honoring its trophy. 

The processes may be similar, but the emotional impact of these 
stages and the magnitude and intensity of the guilt involved in 
killing human beings are significantly different. 1 

The Concern Stage: "How Am I Going to Do?" 

US Marine Sergeant William Rogel summed up the mixture of 
emotions. "A new man . . . has two great fears. One is — it's 
probably an overriding fear — how am I going to do? — am I 
going to show the white feather? Am I going to be a coward, or 
am I going to be able to do my job? And of course the other is 
the common fear, am I going to survive or get killed or wounded?" 

— Richard Holmes 
Acts of War 

The Killing Response Stages 233 

Holmes's research indicates that one of the soldier's first emotional 
responses to killing is a concern as to whether, at the moment of 
truth, he will be able to kill the enemy or will "freeze up" and 
"let his buddies down." All of my interviews and research verify 
that these are deep and sincere concerns that exist on the part of 
most soldiers, and it must be remembered that only 15 to 20 
percent of U.S. World War II riflemen went beyond this first 

Too much concern and fear can result in fixation, resulting in 
an obsession with killing on the part of the soldier. 2 This can also 
be seen in peacetime psychopathologies when individuals become 
fixated or obsessed with killing. In soldiers — and in individuals 
fixated with killing in peacetime — this fixation often comes to a 
conclusion through step two of the process: killing. If a killing 
circumstance never arises, individuals may continue to feed their 
fixation by living in a fantasy world of Hollywood-inspired killing, 
or they may resolve their fixation through the final stage, rational- 
ization and acceptance. 

The Killing Stage: "Without Even Thinking" 

Two shots. Bam-bam. Just like we had been trained in "quick 
kill." When I killed, I did it just like that. Just like I'd been trained. 
Without even thinking. 

— Bob, Vietnam veteran 

Usually killing in combat is completed in the heat of the moment, 
and for the modern, properly conditioned soldier, killing in such 
a circumstance is most often completed reflexively, without con- 
scious thought. It is as though a human being is a weapon. Cocking 
and taking the safety catch off of this weapon is a complex process, 
but once it is off the actual pulling of the trigger is fast and simple. 
Being unable to kill is a very common experience. If on the 
battlefield the soldier finds himself unable to kill, he can either 
begin to rationalize what has occurred, or he can become fixated 
and traumatized by his inability to kill. 

234 The Killing Response Stages 

The Exhilaration Stage: "I Had a Feeling of the Most 
Intense Satisfaction" 

Combat Addiction ... is caused when, during a firefight, the body 
releases a large amount of adrenaline into your system and you get 
what is referred to as a "combat high." This combat high is like 
getting an injection of morphine — you float around, laughing, 
joking, having a great time, totally oblivious to the dangers around 
you. The experience is very intense if you live to tell about it. 

Problems arise when you begin to want another fix of combat, 
and another, and another and, before you know it, you're hooked. 
As with heroin or cocaine addiction, combat addiction will surely 
get you killed. And like any addict, you get desperate and will do 
anything to get your fix. 

— Jack Thompson 
"Hidden Enemies" 

Jack Thompson, a veteran of close combat in several wars, warned 
of the dangers of combat addiction. The adrenaline of combat can 
be greatly increased by another high: the high of killing. What 
hunter or marksman has not felt a thrill of pleasure and satisfaction 
upon dropping his target? In combat this thrill can be greatly 
magnified and can be especially prevalent when the kill is com- 
pleted at medium to long range. 

Fighter pilots, by their nature, and due to the long range of 
their kills, appear to be particularly susceptible to such killing 
addiction. Or might it just be more socially acceptable for pilots 
to speak of it? Whatever the case, many do speak of experiencing 
such emotions. One fighter pilot told Lord Moran: 

Once you've shot down two or three [planes] the effect is terrific 
and you'll go on till you're killed. It's love of the sport rather than 
sense of duty that makes you go on. 

And J. A. Kent writes of a World War II fighter pilot's "wildly 
excited voice on the radio yelling [as he completes an aerial combat 
kill]: 'Christ! He's coming to pieces, there are bits flying off every- 
where. Boy! What a sight!"' 

The Killing Response Stages 235 

On the ground, too, this exhilaration can take place. In a previ- 
ous section we noted young Field Marshal Slim's classic response 
to a World War I personal kill. "I suppose it is brutal," he wrote, 
"but I had a feeling of the most intense satisfaction as the wretched 
Turk went spinning down." I have chosen to name this the exhila- 
ration phase because its most intense or extreme form seems to 
manifest itself as exhilaration, but many veterans echo Slim and 
call it simply "satisfaction." 

The exhilaration felt in this stage can be seen in this narrative 
by an American tank commander describing to Holmes his intense 
exhilaration as he first gunned down German soldiers: "The excite- 
ment was just fantastic ... the exhilaration, after all the years of 
training, the tremendous feeling of lift, of excitement, of exhilara- 
tion, it was like the first time you go deer hunting." 

For some combatants the lure of exhilaration may become more 
than a passing occurrence. A few may become fixated in the 
exhilaration stage and never truly feel remorse. For pilots and 
snipers, who are assisted by physical distance, this fixation appears 
to be relatively common. The image of the aggressive pilot who 
loves what he does (killing) is a part of the twentieth-century 
heritage. But those who kill completely without remorse at close 
range are another situation entirely. 3 

Here again we are beginning to explore the region of Swank 
and Marchand's 2 percent "aggressive psychopaths" (a term that 
today has evolved into "sociopaths"), who appear to have never 
developed any sense of responsibility and guilt. As we saw in a 
previous section, this characteristic, which I prefer to call aggressive 
personality (a sociopath has the capacity for aggression without 
any empathy for his fellow human beings; the aggressive personality 
has the capacity for aggression but may or may not have a capacity 
for empathy), is probably a matter of degrees rather than a 
simple categorization. 

Those who are truly fixated with the exhilaration of killing 
either are extremely rare or simply don't talk about it much. A 
combination of both of these factors is responsible for the lack of 
individuals (outside of fighter pilots) who like to write about or 
dwell upon the satisfaction they derived from killing. There is a 

236 The Killing Response Stages 

strong social stigma against saying that one enjoyed killing in 
combat. Thus it is extraordinary to find an individual expressing 
emotions like these communicated by R. B. Anderson in "Parting 
Shot: Vietnam Was Fun(?)": 

Twenty years too late, America has discovered its Vietnam veter- 
ans. . . . Well-intentioned souls now offer me their sympathy and 
tell me how horrible it all must have been. 

The fact is, it was fun. Granted, I was lucky enough to come 
back in one piece. And granted, I was young, dumb, and wilder 
than a buck Indian. And granted I may be looking back through 
rose-colored glasses. But it was great fun [Anderson's emphasis]. It 
was so great I even went back for a second helping. Think about it. 

. . . Where else could you divide your time between hunting 
the ultimate big game and partying at "the ville"? Where else could 
you sit on the side of a hill and watch an air strike destroy a 
regimental base camp? . . . 

Sure there were tough times and there were sad times. But 
Vietnam is the benchmark of all my experiences. The remainder 
of my life has been spent hanging around the military trying to 
recapture some of that old-time feeling. In combat I was a respected 
man among men. I lived on life's edge and did the most manly 
thing in the world: I was a warrior in war. 

The only person you can discuss these things with is another 
veteran. Only someone who has seen combat can understand the 
deep fraternity of the brotherhood of war. Only a veteran can 
know about the thrill of the kill and the terrible bitterness of losing 
a friend who is closer to you than your own family. 

This narrative gives us a remarkable insight into what there is 
about combat that can make it addicting to some. Many veterans 
might disagree strongly with this representation of the war, and 
some might quietly agree, but few would have this author's coura- 
geous openness. 4 

The Remorse Stage: A Collage of Pain and Horror 

We have previously observed the tremendous and intense remorse 
and revulsion associated with a close-range kill: 

The Killing Response Stages 237 

. . . my experience, was one of revulsion and disgust. ... I dropped 
my weapon and cried. . . . There was so much blood ... I vom- 
ited. . . . And I cried. ... I felt remorse and shame. I can remember 
whispering foolishly, "I'm sorry" and then just throwing up. 

We have seen all of these quotes before, and this collage of pain 
and horror speaks for itself. Some veterans feel that it is rooted in 
a sense of identification or an empathy for the humanity of their 
victim. Some are psychologically overwhelmed by these emotions, 
and they often become determined never to kill again and thereby 
become incapable of further combat. But while most modern 
veterans have experienced powerful emotions at this stage, they 
tend to deny their emotions, becoming cold and hard inside — thus 
making subsequent killing much easier. 

Whether the killer denies his remorse, deals with it, or is over- 
whelmed by it, it is nevertheless almost always there. The killer's 
remorse is real, it is common, it is intense, and it is something 
that he must deal with for the rest of his fife. 

The Rationalization and Acceptance Stage: "It Took All the 
Rationalization I Could Muster" 

The next personal-kill response stage is a lifelong process in which 
the killer attempts to rationalize and accept what he has done. 
This process may never truly be completed. The killer never 
completely leaves all remorse and guilt behind, but he can usually 
come to accept that what he has done was necessary and right. 

This narrative by John Foster reveals some of the rationalization 
that can take place immediately after the kill: 

It was like a volleyball game, he fired, I fired, he fired, I fired. My 

serve — I emptied the rest of the magazine into him. The rifle 

slipped from his hands and he just fell over. . . . 

It sure wasn't like playing army as a kid. We used to shoot each 

other for hours. There was always a lot of screaming and yelling. 

After getting shot, it was mandatory that you writhe around on 

the ground. 

... I rolled the body over. When the body came to rest, my 

eyes riveted on his face. Part of his cheek was gone, along with 

238 The Killing Response Stages 

his nose and right eye. The rest of his face was a mixture of dirt 
and blood. His lips were pulled back and his teeth were clinched. 
Just as I was feeling sorry for him, the Marine showed me the U.S. 
Government Ml carbine the gook had used on us. He was wearing 
a Timex watch and sporting a new pair of U.S. -made tennis shoes. 
So much for feeling sorry for him. 

This narrative gives a remarkable — and almost certainly uninten- 
tional — insight into the early aspects of rationalizing a personal 
kill. Note the writer's recognition of the killer's humanity associ- 
ated with the use of words such as "he," "him," and "his." But 
then the enemy's weapon is noted, the rationalization process 
begins, and "he" becomes "the body" and ultimately "the gook." 
Once the process begins, irrational and irrelevant supporting evi- 
dence is gathered, and the possession of U.S. -made shoes and a 
watch becomes a cause for depersonalization rather than identifi- 

To the reader this rationalization and justification is completely 
unnecessary. To the writer this rationalization and justification of 
his kill are absolutely essential to his emotional and psychological 
health, and their progression is unconsciously revealed in his nar- 

Sometimes the killer is quite aware of his need for and use of 
rationalization. Note the conscious rationalization and justification 
in this account by scout helicopter pilot D. Bray: 

We began to be very efficient executioners, a role we took no real 
pride in. 

I had mixed feelings about this, but as bad as it was, it was better 
than leaving NVA alive to attack American troops somewhere else. 
Often orders for the day would be: Find NVA in this or that area 
... to pick up for interrogation. 

We would drift up and down hillsides, following trails and 
literally looking under big rocks until we would find several NVA 
huddled on the ground, trying to hide. We would radio back to 
headquarters as we backed off far enough to arm our rockets. 
Orders would be "Wait, we're checking it out." Then the bad 

The Killing Response Stages 239 

news would come, "Wrong area, Fixer. Are they making any signs 
of surrender?" 

We would reply, "Negative," and then they would come back 
with, "Kill them if you can." 

"For God's sake, can't you send someone out to take them 

"There is no one available. Shoot them!" 

"Roger," we'd reply, and then we'd cut loose. Sometimes they 
would understand and take off running for cover, but usually, they 
would just crouch in their holes until our rockets hit. Common 
sense told me that the senior officers were right; it was foolish to 
send a platoon after every little band of three or four armed men, 
but it took all the rationalization I could muster before I could 
accept what I was doing. 

. . . Distasteful as it was, looking back, I can see that what we 
did was the only effective way to counter the NVA tactic of 
breaking into such small units that there was no effective way to 
go after them. 

All of this comes as an introduction to Bray's magazine article in 
which he tells of the time when he didn't ask for orders. Instead 
he landed his little two-seater helicopter and, at great danger to 
himself and his copilot, captured a solitary NVA soldier, rather 
than executing him, and subsequently brought the prisoner home 
sitting in his copilot's lap. 

Here again we see an article that appears to represent a deeply 
felt request for understanding by the reader. The average reader 
probably sees no need to justify these kills, but the killer does. 
The point here is that it is this one incident of which Bray is — I 
think justifiably — proud. And it is this incident that he wanted 
to tell in a national forum. His message can be seen over and over 
in these personal narratives about Vietnam: "Look, we did our 
job and we did it well, and it needed doing even though we didn't 
like it; but sometimes we just had to go above and beyond what 
was expected of us in order to avoid the killing." And maybe by 
writing and publishing this article he is telling us that "this time, 
the time when I didn't have to kill anybody, this is the time that 

240 The Killing Response Stages 

I want to tell you about. This is the time that I want to be 
remembered for." 

Sometimes the rationalization can manifest itself in dreams. Ray, 
a veteran of close combat in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, 
told me of a recurring dream in which he would talk with the 
young Panamanian soldier he had killed in close combat. "Why 
did you kill me?" asked the soldier each time. And in his dreams 
Ray would attempt to explain to his victim, but in reality he was 
explaining and rationalizing the act of killing to himself: "Well, 
if you were in my place, wouldn't you have done the same? . . . 
It was either you or us." And over the last few years, as Ray 
worked through the rationalization process in his dreams, the 
soldier and his questions have gone away. 

Here we have seen some aspects of how rationalization and 
acceptance works, but we need to remember that these are just 
some aspects of a lifelong process. If the process fails it will result 
in post-traumatic stress disorder. The failure of the rationalization 
and acceptance process in Vietnam, and its subsequent impact upon 
our nation, will be looked at in "Killing in Vietnam," the next 
section of this book. 

Chapter Two 

Applications of the Model: 

Murder- Suicides, Lost Elections, and 

Thoughts of Insanity 

An Application: Murder-Suicides and Aggression Responses 

An understanding of the killing response stages permits understand- 
ing of individual responses to violence outside of combat. For 
instance, we may now be able to understand some of the psychol- 
ogy behind murder-suicides. A murderer, particularly an individual 
who kills several victims in a spree of violent passion, may very 
well be fixated in the exhilaration stage of killing. But once there 
is a lull, and the murderer has a chance to dwell on what he has 
done, the revulsion stage sets in with such intensity that suicide 
is a very common response. 

These responses can even occur when aggression intrudes into 
our day-to-day peacetime fives. They are far more intense when 
one kills in close combat, but just a fistfight can bring them up. 
Richard Heckler, a psychologist and a high-level master of the 
martial art of aikido, experienced the full range of response stages in 
a fight with a group of teenagers who attacked him in his driveway: 

242 The Killing Response Stages 

When I turned my back someone shot out of the back seat, grabbed 
my arm, and spun me around. A bolt of adrenalin surged through 
me and without a moment's hesitation I backhanded him in the 

I was suddenly released from all restraints. I'd been assaulted 
physically, it was now my right to unleash the fury I felt from the 
beginning. As the driver came towards me I pushed his grab aside 
and pinned him by the throat against the car. . . . The kid I hit 
was stumbling around holding his face. I was in full-bloom righteous 
indignation by this point. Having given myself total permission to 
set justice in order I turned to settle matters with the kid under 
my grip. 

What I saw stopped me in horror. He looked at me in total and 
absolute fear. His eyes were glazed in terror; his body shook vio- 
lently. A searing pain spread through my chest and heart. I suddenly 
lost my stomach for revenge . . . seeing that boy's terror as I held 
his throat made me understand what Nietzsche meant when he 
wrote . . . "Rather perish than hate and fear, and twice rather 
perish than make oneself hated and feared." 

First we see the actual, initial blow being struck reflexively without 
thinking: "without a moment's hesitation I backhanded him in 
the face." Then the exhilaration and euphoria stage occurs: "I was 
suddenly released from all restraints. ... it was now my right to 
unleash the fury I felt." And suddenly the revulsion stage sets in: 
"What I saw stopped me in horror. ... A searing pain spread 
through my chest and heart." 

This process might even help to explain the responses of nations 
to killing in warfare. After the Gulf War, President Bush was the 
most popular president in recent American history. America was 
in the euphoria stage as it had its parades and congratulated itself 
on its performance. Then came a kind of moral hangover very 
much like the revulsion stage, which was just in time for President 
Bush to lose the election. Could this be pushing the model too 
far? Perhaps, but the same thing happened to Churchill after World 
War II, and it almost happened to Truman in 1948. Truman was 

Applications of the Model 243 

lucky enough to have his election three years after the war was 
over, which may have been sufficient time for the nation to begin 
the rationalization and acceptance stage. This may indeed be 
stretching the model too far, but perhaps it will give future politi- 
cians something to think about when they consider going to 

"I Thought I Was Insane": Interaction Between Exhilaration 
and Remorse 

When I talk to veterans' groups about the killing response stages 
their reactions are always remarkable. Any good speaker or teacher 
recognizes when he has struck a chord in his audience, but the 
response of veterans to the killing response stage — particularly to 
the interaction between the exhilaration and the remorse stages — 
is the most powerful I have ever experienced. 

One of the things that appears to occur among men in combat 
is that they feel the high of the exhilaration stage, and then when 
the remorse stage sets in they believe that there must be something 
"wrong" or "sick" about them to have enjoyed it so intensely. 
The common response is something like: "My God, I just killed 
a man and I enjoyed it. What is wrong with me?" 

If the demands from authority and the threatening enemy are 
intense enough to overcome a soldier's resistance, it is only under- 
standable that he feel some sense of satisfaction. He has hit his 
target, he has saved his friends, and he has saved his own life. He 
has resolved the conflict successfully. He won. He is alive! But a 
good portion of the subsequent remorse and guilt appears to be a 
horrified response to this perfectly natural and common feeling of 
exhilaration. It is vital that future soldiers understand that this is a normal 
and very common response to the abnormal circumstances of combat, and 
they need to understand that their feelings of satisfaction at killing are a 
natural and fairly common aspect of combat. I believe that this is the 
most important insight that can come from an understanding of 
the killing response stages. 

Again, I should emphasize that not all combatants go through 
all stages. Eric, a USMC veteran, described how these stages 

244 The Killing Response Stages 

occurred in his combat experiences. His first kill in Vietnam was 
an enemy soldier whom he had just seen urinating along the trail. 
When this soldier subsequendy moved toward him, Eric shot him. 
"It didn't feel good," he said. "It didn't feel good at all." There 
was no discernible exhilaration, or even any satisfaction. But later, 
when he killed enemy soldiers who were "coming over the wire" 
in a firefight, he felt what he called "satisfaction, a satisfaction 
of anger." 

Eric's case brings out two points. The first is that when you 
have cause to identify with your victim (that is, you see him 
participate in some act that emphasizes his humanity, such as urinat- 
ing, eating, or smoking) it is much harder to kill him, and there 
is much less satisfaction associated with the kill, even if the victim 
represents a direct threat to you and your comrades at the time 
you kill him. The second point is that subsequent kills are always 
easier, and there is much more of a tendency to feel satisfaction 
or exhilaration after the second killing experience, and less ten- 
dency to feel remorse. 

You don't even have to personally kill to experience these 
response stages and the interaction between the exhilaration and 
remorse stages. Sol, a veteran of naval combat in World War II, 
told of his exhilaration when he saw his ship shelling a Japanese- 
held island. Later, when he saw the charred and mangled Japanese 
bodies, he felt remorse and guilt, and for the rest of his life he has 
been trying to rationalize and accept the pleasure he felt. Sol, like 
thousands of others I have spoken to, was profoundly relieved to 
realize that his deepest, darkest secrets were no different than those 
of other soldiers with similar experiences. 

One veteran's letter to the editor in response to Jack Thompson's 
article "Combat Addiction" reveals the desperate need for an 
understanding of these processes: 

[Jack Thompson's] insight has always astounded me, but this piece 
was really out of the ordinary. . . . What was really right on target 
was the combat addiction part. For quite a long time I thought I 
was insane off and on. 

Applications of the Model 245 

Just a simple understanding of the universality of these emotions 
helped one man understand that he wasn't really crazy, that he 
was just experiencing a common human reaction to an uncommon 
situation. Again, that is the objective of this study: no judgment, 
no condemnation, just the remarkable power of understanding. 


Killing in Vietnam: 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 

With the frost of his breath wreathing his face, the new president 
proclaimed, "Now the trumpet summons us ... to bear the burden 
of a long twilight struggle . . . against the common enemies of 
man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." 

Exactly twelve years later, in January 1973, an agreement signed 
in Paris would end U.S. military efforts in Vietnam. The trumpet 
would be silent, the mood sullen. American fighting men would 
depart with the war unwon. The United States of America would 
no longer be willing to pay any price. 

— Dave Palmer 

Summons of the Trumpet 

What happened in Vietnam? Why do between 400,000 and 1.5 
million Vietnam vets suffer from PTSD as a result of that tragic 
war? 1 Just what have we done to our soldiers? 

Chapter One 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam: 
Overcoming the Resistance to Killing 

"Nobody Understood": An Incident in a VFW Hall 

As I conducted interviews for this study in a VFW hall in Florida 
in the summer of 1989, a Vietnam vet named Roger started talking 
about his experiences over a beer. It was still early in the afternoon, 
but down the bar an older woman already began to attack him. 
"You got no right to snivel about your litde pish-ant war. World 
War Two was a real war. Were you even alive then? Huh? I lost 
a brother in World War Two." 

We tried to ignore her; she was only a local character. But 
finally Roger had had enough. He looked at her and calmly, coldly, 
said: "Have you ever had to kill anyone?" 

"Well no!" she answered belligerendy. 

"Then what right have you got to tell me anything?" 

There was a long, painful silence throughout the VFW hall, as 
would occur in a home where a guest had just witnessed an 
embarrassing family argument. 

Then I asked quietly, "Roger, when you got pushed just now, 
you came back with the fact that you had to kill in Vietnam. Was 
that the worst of it for you?" 

"Yah," he said. "That's half of it." 

250 Killing in Vietnam 

I waited for a very long time, but he didn't go on. He only 
stared into his beer. Finally I had to ask, "What was the other half?" 

"The other half was that when we got home, nobody un- 

What Happened over There, and What Happened over Here 

As discussed earlier, there is a profound resistance to killing one's 
fellow man. In World War II, 75 to 80 percent of riflemen did 
not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their 
lives and the lives of their friends. In previous wars nonfiring rates 
were similar. 

In Vietnam the nonfiring rate was close to 5 percent. 

The ability to increase this firing rate, though, comes with 
a hidden cost. Severe psychological trauma becomes a distinct 
possibility when psychological safeguards of such magnitude are 
overridden. Psychological conditioning was applied en masse to a 
body of soldiers, who, in previous wars, were shown to be unwill- 
ing or unable to engage in killing activities. When these soldiers, 
already inwardly shaken by their inner killing experiences, returned 
to be condemned and attacked by their own nation, the result was 
often further psychological trauma and long-term psychic damage. 

Overcoming the Resistance to Killing: The Problem 

But for the infantry, the problem of persuading soldiers to kill is 
now a major one. . . . That an infantry company in World War 
II could wreak such havoc with only about one seventh of the 
soldiers willing to use their weapons is a testimony to the lethal 
effects of modern firepower, but once armies realized what was 
actually going on, they at once set about to raise the average. 

Soldiers had to be taught, very specifically, to kill. "We are 
reluctant to admit that essentially war is the business of killing," 
Marshall wrote in 1947, but it is readily enough admitted now. 
— Gwynne Dyer 


At the end of World War II the problem became obvious: Johnny 
can't kill. 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 251 

A firing rate of 15 to 20 percent among soldiers is like having 
a literacy rate of 15 to 20 percent among proofreaders. Once those 
in authority realized the existence and magnitude of the problem, 
it was only a matter of time until they solved it. 

The Answer 

And thus, since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in 
modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare — psychological 
warfare conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one's own 
troops. Propaganda and various other crude forms of psychological 
enabling have always been present in warfare, but in the second 
half of this century psychology has had an impact as great as that 
of technology on the modern battlefield. 

When S. L. A. Marshall was sent to the Korean War to make 
the same kind of investigation that he had done in World War II, 
he found that (as a result of new training techniques initiated in 
response to his earlier findings) 55 percent of infantrymen were 
firing their weapons — and in some perimeter-defense crises, al- 
most everyone was. These training techniques were further per- 
fected, and in Vietnam the firing rate appears to have been around 
90 to 95 percent. 2 The triad of methods used to achieve this 
remarkable increase in killing are desensitization, conditioning, 
and denial defense mechanisms. 

Desensitization: Thinking the Unthinkable 

The Vietnam era was, of course then at its peak, you know, the 
kill thing. We'd run PT [physical training] in the morning and 
every time your left foot hit the deck you'd have to chant "kill, 
kill, kill, kill." It was drilled into your mind so much that it 
seemed like when it actually came down to it, it didn't bother 
you, you know? Of course the first one always does, but it 
seems to get easier — not easier, because it still bothers you with 
every one that, you know, that you actually kill and you know 
you've killed. 

— USMC sergeant and Vietnam veteran, 1982 
quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

252 Killing in Vietnam 

This interview from Dyer's book provides an insight into that 
aspect of our modern training programs that is clearly and distinctly 
different from those of the past. Men have always used a variety 
of mechanisms to convince themselves that the enemy was differ- 
ent, that he did not have a family, or that he was not even human. 
Most primitive tribes took names that translate as "man" or "human 
being," thereby automatically defining those outside of the tribe 
as simply another breed of animal to be hunted and killed. We 
have done something similar when we call the enemy Japs, Krauts, 
gooks, slopes, dinks, and Commies. 

Authors such as Dyer and Holmes have traced the development 
of this boot-camp deification of killing as having been almost 
unheard of in World War I, rare in World War II, increasingly 
present in Korea, and thoroughly institutionalized in Vietnam. 
Here Dyer explains exacdy how this institutionalization of violent 
ideation in Vietnam differs from the experiences of previous gener- 

Most of the language used in Parris Island to describe the joys of 
killing people is bloodthirsty but meaningless hyperbole, and the 
recruits realize that even as they enjoy it. Nevertheless, it does help 
to desensitize them to the suffering of an "enemy," and at the same 
time they are being indoctrinated in the most explicit fashion (as 
previous generations were not) with the notion that their purpose 
is not just to be brave or to fight well; it is to kill people. 

Conditioning: Doing the Unthinkable 

But desensitization by itself is probably not sufficient to overcome 
the average individual's deep-seated-resistance to killing. Indeed, 
this desensitization process is almost a smoke screen for what I 
believe is the most important aspect of modern training. What 
Dyer and many other observers have missed is the role of (1) 
Pavlovian classical conditioning and (2) Skinnerian operant condi- 
tioning in modern training. 

In 1904, I. P. Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize for his 
development of the concepts of conditioning and association in 
dogs. In its simplest form, what Pavlov did was ring a bell just 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 253 

before feeding a dog. Over time, the dog learned to associate the 
sound of the bell with eating and would salivate when he heard 
the bell, even if no food was present. The conditioned stimulus 
was the bell, the conditioned response was salivation: the dog had 
been conditioned to salivate upon hearing a bell ring. This process 
of associating reward with a particular kind of behavior is the 
foundation of most successful animal training. During the middle 
of the twentieth century B. F. Skinner further refined this process 
into what he called behavioral engineering. Skinner and the behav- 
iorist school represent one of the most scientific and potentially 
powerful areas of the field of psychology. 

The method used to train today's — and the Vietnam era's — 
U.S. Army and USMC soldiers is nothing more than an application 
of conditioning techniques to develop a reflexive "quick shoot" 
ability. It is entirely possible that no one intentionally sat down 
to use operant conditioning or behavior modification techniques 
to train soldiers in this area. In my two decades of military service 
not a single soldier, sergeant, or officer, nor a single official or 
unofficial reference, has communicated an understanding that con- 
ditioning was occurring during marksmanship training. But from 
the standpoint of a psychologist who is also a historian and a career 
soldier, it has become increasingly obvious to me that this is exactly 
•vhat has been achieved. 

Instead of lying prone on a grassy field calmly shooting at a 
bull's-eye target, the modern soldier spends many hours standing 
in a foxhole, with full combat equipment draped about his body, 
looking over an area of lightly wooded rolling terrain. At periodic 
intervals one or two olive-drab, man-shaped targets at varying 
ranges will pop up in front of him for a brief time, and the soldier 
must instantly aim and shoot at the target(s). When he hits a target 
it provides immediate feedback by instandy and very satisfyingly 
dropping backward — just as a living target would. Soldiers are 
highly rewarded and recognized for success in this skill and suf- 
fer mild punishment (in the form of retraining, peer pressure, 
and failure to graduate from boot camp) for failure to quickly 
and accurately "engage" the targets — a standard euphemism for 

254 Killing in Vietnam 

In addition to traditional marksmanship, what is being taught 
in this environment is the ability to shoot reflexively and instantly 
and a precise mimicry of the act of killing on the modern batdefield. 
In behavioral terms, the man shape popping up in the soldier's 
field of fire is the "conditioned stimulus," the immediate engaging 
of the target is the "target behavior." "Positive reinforcement" is 
given in the form of immediate feedback when the target drops 
if it is hit. In a form of "token economy" these hits are then 
exchanged for marksmanship badges that usually have some form 
of privilege or reward (praise, public recognition, three-day passes, 
and so on) associated with them. 

Every aspect of killing on the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized, 
and conditioned. On special occasions even more realistic and 
complex targets are used. Balloon-filled uniforms moving across 
the kill zone (pop the balloon and the target drops to the ground), 
red-paint-filled milk jugs, and many other ingenious devices are 
used. These make the training more interesting, the conditioned 
stimuli more realistic, and the conditioned response more assured 
under a variety of different circumstances. 

Snipers use such techniques extensively. In Vietnam it took an 
average of 50,000 rounds of ammunition to kill one enemy soldier. 
But the U.S. Army and USMC snipers in Vietnam expended only 
1 .39 rounds per kill. Carlos Hathcock, with ninety-three confirmed 
sniper kills in Vietnam, became involved in police and military 
sniper training after the war. He firmly believed that snipers should 
train on targets that look like people — not bull's-eyes. A typical 
command to one of his students (who is firing from one hundred 
yards at a life-sized photograph of a man holding a pistol to a 
woman's head) would be "Put three rounds inside the inside corner 
of the right eye of the bad guy." 

In the same way, Chuck Cramer, the trainer for an Israeli 
Defense Force antiterrorist sniper course, tried to design his course 
in such a way that practicing to kill was as realistic as possible. "I 
made the targets as human as possible," said Kramer. 

I changed the standard firing targets to full-size, anatomically correct 
figures because no Syrian runs around with a big white square on 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 255 

his chest with numbers on it. I put clothes on these targets and 
polyurethane heads. I cut up a cabbage and poured catsup into it 
and put it back together. I said, "When you look through that 
scope, I want you to see a head blowing up." 

— Dale Dye 

"Chuck Cramer: IDFs Master Sniper" 

This is all common practice in most of the world's best armies. 
Most modern infantry leaders understand that realistic training 
with immediate feedback to the soldier works, and they know 
that it is essential for success and survival on the modern battlefield. 
But the military is not, as a rule, a particularly introspective organi- 
zation, and it has been my experience that those ordering, conduct- 
ing, and participating in this training do not understand or even 
wonder (1) what makes it work or (2) what its psychological and 
sociological side effects might be. It works, and for them that is 
good enough. 

What makes this training process work is the same thing that 
made Pavlov's dogs salivate and B. F. Skinner's rats press their 
bars. What makes it work is the single most powerful and reliable 
behavior modification process yet discovered by the field of psy- 
chology, and now applied to the field of warfare: operant condi- 

Denial Defense Mechanisms: Denying the Unthinkable 

An additional aspect of this process that deserves consideration 
here is the development of a denial defense mechanism. Denial 
and defense mechanisms are unconscious methods for dealing with 
traumatic experiences. Prepackaged denial defense mechanisms are 
a remarkable contribution from modern U.S. Army training. 

Basically the soldier has rehearsed the process so many times 
that when he does kill in combat he is able to, at one level, deny 
to himself that he is actually killing another human being. This 
careful rehearsal and realistic mimicry of the act of killing permit 
the soldier to convince himself that he has only "engaged" another 

256 Killing in Vietnam 

target. One British veteran of the Falklands, trained in the modern 
method, told Holmes that he "thought of the enemy as nothing 
more or less than Figure II [man-shaped] targets." In the same 
way, an American soldier can convince himself that he is shooting 
at an E-type silhouette (a man-shaped, olive-drab target), and not 
a human being. 

Bill Jordan, law-enforcement expert, career U.S. Border Patrol 
officer, and veteran of many a gunfight, combines this denial 
process with desensitization in his advice to young law-enforce- 
ment officers: 

[There is] a natural disinclination to pull the trigger . . . when your 
weapon is pointed at a human. Even though their own life was at 
stake, most officers report having this trouble in their first fight. 
To aid in overcoming this resistance it is helpful if you can will 
yourself to think of your opponent as a mere target and not as a 
human being. In this connection you should go further and pick 
a spot on the target. This will allow better concentration and further 
remove the human element from your thinking. If this works for 
you, try to continue this thought in allowing yourself no remorse. 
A man who will resist an officer with weapons has no respect for 
the rules by which decent people are governed. He is an outlaw 
who has no place in world society. His removal is completely 
justified, and should be accomplished dispassionately and with- 
out regret. 

Jordan calls this process manufactured contempt, and the combina- 
tion of denial of, and contempt for, the victim's role in society 
(desensitization), along with the psychological denial of, and con- 
tempt for, the victim's humanity (developing a denial defense 
mechanism), is a mental process that is tied in and reinforced every 
time the officer fires a round at a target. And, of course, police, 
like the military, no longer fire at bull's-eyes; they "practice" on 
man-shaped silhouettes. 

The success of this conditioning and desensitization is obvious 
and undeniable. It can be seen and recognized both in individuals 
and in the performance of nations and armies. 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 257 

The Effectiveness of the Conditioning 
Bob, a U.S. Army colonel, knew of Marshall's study and accepted 
that Marshall's World War II firing rates were probably correct. 
He was not sure what mechanism was responsible for increasing 
the firing rate in Vietnam, but he realized that somehow the rate 
had been increased. When I suggested the conditioning effects of 
modern training, he immediately recognized that process in him- 
self. His head snapped up, his eyes widened slighdy, and he said, 
"Two shots. Bam-bam. Just like we had been trained in 'quick 
kill.' When I killed, I did it just like that. Just like I'd been trained. 
Without even thinking." 

Jerry, another veteran who survived six six-month tours in 
Cambodia as an officer with Special Forces (Green Berets), when 
asked how he was able to do the things that he did, acknowledged 
simply that he had been "programmed" to kill, and he accepted 
it as necessary for his survival and success. 

One interviewee, an ex-CIA agent named Duane, who was 
then working as a high-level security executive in a major aerospace 
corporation, had conducted a remarkable number of successful 
interrogations during his lifetime, and he considered himself to be 
an expert on the process known popularly as brainwashing. He 
felt that he had been "to some extent brainwashed" by the CIA 
and that the soldiers receiving modern combat training were being 
similarly brainwashed. Like every other veteran whom I have 
discussed the matter with, he had no objections to this, understand- 
ing that psychological conditioning was essential to his survival 
and an effective method of mission accomplishment. He felt that 
a very similar and equally powerful process was taking place in the 
shoot-no shoot program, which federal and local law-enforcement 
agencies all over the nation conduct. In this program the officer 
selectively fires blanks at a movie screen depicting various tactical 
situations, thereby mimicking and rehearsing the process of decid- 
ing when and when not to kill. 

The incredible effectiveness of modern training techniques can 
be seen in the lopsided close-combat kill ratios between the British 
and Argentinean forces during the Falklands War and the U.S. 

258 Killing in Vietnam 

and Panamanian forces during the 1989 Panama Invasion. 3 During 
his interviews with British veterans of the Falklands War, Holmes 
described Marshall's observations in World War II and asked if 
they had seen a similar incidence of nonfirers in their own forces. 
Their response was that they had seen no such thing occur with 
their soldiers, but there was "immediate recognition that it applied 
to the Argentineans, whose snipers and machine-gunners had been 
very effective while their individual riflemen had not." Here we 
see an excellent comparison between the highly effective and 
competent British riflemen, trained by the most modern methods, 
and the remarkably ineffective Argentinean riflemen, who had 
been given old-style, World War II-vintage training. 

Similarly, Rhodesia's army during the 1970s was one of the best 
trained in the world, going up against a very poorly trained but 
well-equipped insurgent force. The security forces in Rhodesia 
maintained an overall kill ratio of about eight-to-one in their favor 
throughout the guerrilla war. And the highly trained Rhodesian 
Light Infantry achieved kill ratios ranging from thirty-five-to-one 
to fifty-to-one. 

One of the best examples in recent American history involved 
a company of U.S. Army Rangers who were ambushed and trapped 
while attempting to capture Mohammed Aidid, a Somali warlord 
sought by the United Nations. In this circumstance no artillery or 
air strikes were used, and no tanks, armored vehicles, or other 
heavy weapons were available to the American forces, which makes 
this an excellent assessment of the relative effectiveness of modern 
small-arms training techniques. The score? Eighteen U.S. troops 
killed, against an estimated 364 Somali who died that night. 

And we might remember that American forces were never once 
defeated in any major engagement in Vietnam. Harry Summers 
says that when this was pointed out to a high-ranking North 
Vietnamese soldier after the war, the answer was "That may be 
true, but it is also irrelevant." Perhaps so, but it does reflect the 
individual close-combat superiority of the U.S. soldier in Vietnam. 
Even with allowance for unintentional error and deliberate exag- 
geration, this superior training and killing ability in Vietnam, Pan- 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 259 

ama, Argentina, and Rhodesia amounts to nothing less than a 
technological revolution on the battlefield, a revolution that repre- 
sents total superiority in close combat. 

A Side Effect of the Conditioning 
Duane, the CIA veteran, told of one incident that provides some 
insight into a side effect of this conditioning or brainwashing. He 
was guarding a Communist defector in a safe house in West Ger- 
many during the mid-1950s. The defector was a very large, strong, 
and particularly murderous member of the Stalinist regime then 
in power. By all accounts he was quite insane. Having defected 
because he had lost favor among his Soviet masters, he was now 
beginning to have second thoughts about his new masters and was 
trying to escape. 

Alone for days in a locked and barred house with this man, the 
young CIA agent assigned to watch him was subject to a series of 
attacks. The defector would charge at him with a club or a piece 
of furniture, and each time he would break off the attack at the 
last minute as Duane pointed his weapon at him. The agent called 
his superiors over the phone and was ordered to draw an imaginary 
line on the floor and shoot this unarmed (though very hostile and 
dangerous) individual if he crossed that line. Duane felt certain 
that this line was going to be crossed and mustered up all of his 
conditioning. "He was a dead man. I knew I would kill him. 
Mentally I had killed him, and the physical part was going to be 
easy." But the defector (apparently not quite as crazy or desperate 
as he appeared to be) never crossed that line. 

Still, some aspect of the trauma of the kill was there. "In my 
mind," Duane told me, "I have always felt that I had killed that 
man." Most Vietnam veterans did not necessarily execute a per- 
sonal kill in Vietnam. But they had participated in dehumanizing 
the enemy in training, and the vast majority of them did fire, or 
knew in their hearts that they were prepared to fire, and the very 
fact that they were prepared and able to fire ("Mentally I had killed 
him") denied them an important form of escape from the burden 
of responsibility that they brought back from that war. Although 

260 Killing in Vietnam 

they had not killed, they had been taught to think the unthinkable 
and had thereby been introduced to a part of themselves that under 
ordinary circumstances only the killer knows. The point is that this 
program of desensitization, conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms, 
combined with subsequent participation in a war, may make it possible to 
share the guilt of killing without ever having killed. 

A Safeguard in the Conditioning 

It is essential to understand that one of the most important aspects 
of this process is that soldiers are always under authority in combat. 
No army can tolerate undisciplined or indiscriminate firing, and a 
vital — and easily overlooked — facet of the soldier's conditioning 
revolves around having him fire only when and where he is told 
to. The soldier fires only when told to by a higher authority and 
then only within his designated firing lane. Firing a weapon at the 
wrong time or in the wrong direction is so heinous an offense 
that it is almost unthinkable to the average soldier. 

Soldiers are conditioned throughout their training and through- 
out their time in the military to fire only under authority. A gunshot 
cannot be easily hidden, and on rifle ranges or during field training 
any gunshot at inappropriate times (even when firing blank ammu- 
nition) must be justified, and if it is not justifiable it will be immedi- 
ately and firmly punished. 

Similarly, most law-enforcement officers are presented with a 
variety of targets representing both innocent bystanders and gun- 
wielding criminals during their training. And they are severely 
sanctioned for engaging the wrong target. In the FBI's shoot-no 
shoot program, failure to demonstrate a satisfactory ability to distin- 
guish when an officer can and cannot fire can result in revocation 
of the officer's right to carry a weapon. 

Numerous studies have demonstrated that there is not any distin- 
guishable threat of violence to society from the veterans returning 
to the United States from any of the wars of this century. There 
are Vietnam vets who commit violent crimes, but statistically there 
is no greater a population of violent criminals among veterans than 
there is among nonveterans. 4 What is a potential threat to society 

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam 261 

is the unrestrained desensitization, conditioning, and denial defense 
mechanisms provided by modern interactive video games and 
violent television and movies, but that is a topic for the last section 
in this book, "Killing in America: What Are We Doing to Our 

Chapter Two 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 
The Rationalization of Killing and 
How It Failed in Vietnam 

The Rationalization and Acceptance of Killing 

But after the fires and the wrath, 

But after searching and pain, 
His Mercy opens us a path 

To five with ourselves again. 

— Rudyard Kipling 
"The Choice" 

We have previously examined the killing response stages of con- 
cern, killing exhilaration, remorse, and rationalization and accep- 
tance. Let us now apply this model to the Vietnam veteran in order 
to understand how the process of rationalization and acceptance of 
killing failed in Vietnam. 

The Rationalization Process 

Something unique seems to have occurred in the rationalization 
process available to the Vietnam veteran. Compared with earlier 
American wars the Vietnam conflict appears to have reversed most 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 


■ .Concern 
about being 
able to kill 

If. Fixation 

with ability 

to kill 



2. Killing 

2a. inability 
to kill 

2f. Fixation 

with inability 

to kill 


3. Exhilaration 
from kill 

3f. Fixation 



5. Rationalization and 
Acceptance process 

4. Remorse 

and nausea 

from kill 

4f. Fixation 

with remorse 

and guilt 

The Killing Response Stages 

5a. Rationalization 


of the processes traditionally used to facilitate the rationalization 
and acceptance of killing experiences. These traditional pro- 
cesses involve: 

• Constant praise and assurance to the soldier from peers and superi- 
ors that he "did the right thing" (One of the most important 
physical manifestations of this affirmation is the awarding of med- 
als and decorations.) 

• The constant presence of mature, older comrades (that is, in their 
late twenties and thirties) who serve as role models and stabilizing 
personality factors in the combat environment 

• A careful adherence to such codes and conventions of warfare 
by both sides (such as the Geneva conventions, first established 
in 1864), thereby limiting civilian casualties and atrocities 

• Rear fines or clearly defined safe areas where the soldier can go 
to relax and depressurize during a combat tour 

• The presence of close, trusted friends and confidants who have 

264 Killing in Vietnam 

been present during training and are present throughout the 
combat experience 

• A cooldown period as the soldier and his comrades sail or march 
back from the wars 

• Knowledge of the ultimate victory of their side and of the gain 
and accomplishments made possible by their sacrifices 

• Parades and monuments 

• Reunions and continued communication (via visits, mail, and so 
on) with the individuals whom the soldier bonded with in combat 

• An unconditionally warm and admiring welcome by friends, 
family, communities, and society, constantly reassuring the soldier 
that the war and his personal acts were for a necessary, just, and 
righteous cause 

• The proud display of medals 

What Made Vietnam Different 

In the case of the Vietnam veteran all but the first of these rational- 
ization processes were not only mostly absent, but many of them 
were inverted and became sources of great pain and trauma to 
the veteran. 

The Teenage War 

It's easier if you catch them young. You can train older men to 
be soldiers; it's done in every major war. But you can never get 
them to believe that they like it, which is the major reason armies 
try to get their recruits before they are twenty. There are other 
reasons too, of course, like the physical fitness, lack of dependents, 
and economic dispensability of teenagers, that make armies prefer 
them, but the most important qualities teenagers bring to basic 
training are enthusiasm and naivete. . . . 

The armed forces of every country can take almost any young 
male civilian and turn him into a soldier with all the right reflexes 
and attitudes in only a few weeks. Their recruits usually have no 
more than twenty years' experience of the world, most of it as 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 265 

children, while the armies have had all of history to practice and 
perfect their technique. 

— Gwynne Dyer 

The combatants of all wars are frightfully young, but the American 
combatants in Vietnam were significantly younger than in any war 
in American history. Most were drafted at eighteen and experi- 
enced combat during one of the most malleable and vulnerable 
stages of their lives. This was America's first "teenage war," with 
the average combatant having not yet seen his twentieth birthday, 
and these combatants were without the leavening of mature, older 
soldiers that has always been there in past wars. 

Developmental psychologists have identified this stage in an 
adolescent's psychological and social development as being a crucial 
period in which the individual establishes a stable and enduring 
personality structure and a sense of self. 

In past wars the impact of combat on adolescents has been 
buffered by the presence of older veterans who can serve as role 
models and mentors throughout the process. But in Vietnam there 
were precious few such individuals to turn to. By the end of the 
war many sergeants were coming out of "Shake 'n Bake" school 
and had only a few months more training and maturity than their 
comrades. Even many officers were coming out of OCS (Officer 
Candidate School) without any college training whatsoever, and 
they too had little more training and maturity than their soldiers. 

They were teenagers leading teenagers in a war of endless, small- 
unit operations, trapped together in a real-world reenactment of 
The Lord of the Flies with guns, and destined to internalize the 
horrors of combat during one of the most vulnerable and suscep- 
tible stages of life. 

The "Dirty" War 

Simultaneously everyone leveled his weapon at him and fired. 
"Jesus Christ!" somebody gasped behind me as we watched his 
body reverse course back toward the trees; chunks of meat and 

266 Killing in Vietnam 

bone flew through the air and stuck to the huge boulders. One of 
our rounds detonated a grenade the soldier carried, and his body 
smashed to the ground beneath a shower of blood. . . . 

The young Viet Cong was a good soldier, even if he was a 
communist. He died for what he believed in. He was not a gunner 
for Hanoi, he was a VC. His country was not North Vietnam, he 
was South Vietnamese. His political beliefs did not coincide with 
those of the Saigon government, so he was labeled an enemy of 
the people. . . . 

A young Vietnamese girl appeared out of nowhere and sat down 
next to one of the dead VC. She just sat there staring at the pile 
of weapons, and slowly rocking herself back and forth. I couldn't 
tell if she was crying, because she never once looked over at us. 
She just sat there. A fly crawled along her cheek, but she paid no 
attention to it. 

She just sat there. 

She was the 7-year-old daughter of a Viet Cong soldier, and I 
wondered if she had been conditioned to accept death and war 
and sorrow. She was an orphan now, and I wondered if there were 
confusion in her mind, or sadness, or just an emptiness that no 
one could understand. 

I wanted to go over and comfort her, but I found myself walking 
down the hill with the others. I never looked back. 

— Nick Uhernik 
"Battle of Blood" 

At a Vietnam Vets Coalition meeting in Florida, one vet told me 
about his cousin, who was also a vet, who would only say: "They 
trained me to kill. They sent me to Vietnam. They didn't tell me 
that I'd be fighting kids." For many, this is the distilled essence 
of the horror of what happened in Vietnam. 

The killing is always traumatic. But when you have to kill 
women and children, or when you have to kill men in their homes, 
in front of their wives and children, and when you have to do it 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 267 

not from twenty thousand feet but up close where you can watch 
them die, the horror appears to transcend description or under- 

Much of the war in Vietnam was conducted against an insurgent 
force. Against men, women, and children who were often de- 
fending their own homes and who were dressed in civilian clothing. 
This resulted in a deterioration of traditional conventions and 
an increase in civilian casualties, atrocities, and resultant trauma. 
Neither the ideological reasons for the war, nor the target popula- 
tion, was the same as that associated with previous wars. 

The standard methods of on-the-scene rationalization fail when 
the enemy's child comes out to mourn over her father's body or 
when the enemy is a child throwing a hand grenade. And the 
North Vietnamese and Vietcong understood this. Among the many 
excellent narratives gained from personal interviews in Al Santoli's 
book To Bear Any Burden is the story of Troung "Mealy," a former 
Vietcong agent in the Mekong Delta. "Children were trained," 
said Mealy, "to throw grenades, not only for the terror factor, but 
so the government or American soldiers would have to shoot 
them. Then the Americans feel very ashamed. And they blame 
themselves and call their soldiers war criminals." 

And it worked. 

When a soldier shoots a child who is throwing a grenade the 
child's weapon explodes, and there is only the mutilated body left 
to rationalize. There is no convenient weapon indisputably telling 
the world of the victim's lethality and the killer's innocence; there 
is only a dead child, speaking mutely of horror and innocence lost. 
The innocence of childhood, soldiers, and nations, all lost in a 
single act reenacted countless times for ten endless years until a 
weary nation finally retreats in horror and dismay from its long 

The Inescapable War 

There were no real lines of demarcation, and just about any area 
was subject to attack. ... It was an endless war with invisible 
enemies and no ground gains — just a constant flow of troops in 
and out of the country. The only observable outcome was an 

268 Killing in Vietnam 

interminable production of maimed, crippled bodies and count- 
less corpses. 

— Jim Goodwin 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders 

In The Face of Battle, John Keegan traces conflicts across the centu- 
ries, noting in particular how the duration of a battle and the depth 
of the battlefield increased over the years. From a duration of a 
few hours and a depth of only a few hundred yards in the Middle 
Ages, battle grew to the point where, in this century, the depth 
of the danger zone extended for miles into the rear areas, and the 
battles could last for months, even blending into one another to 
create one endless conflict that would last for years. 

In World War I and World War II we discovered that this 
endless batde would take a horrendous psychological toll on the 
combatant, and we were able to deal with this endless batde by 
rotating soldiers into the rear lines. Within Vietnam, the danger 
zone increased exponentially, and for ten years we fought a war 
unlike any we had experienced before. In Vietnam there were no 
rear lines to escape to, there was no escape from the stress of 
combat, and the psychological stress of continuously existing at 
"the front" took an enormous, if delayed, toll. 

The Lonely War 

Prior to Vietnam the American soldier's first experience with the 
battlefield was usually as a member of a unit that had been trained 
and bonded together prior to combat. The soldier in these wars 
usually knew that he was in for the duration or until he had 
established sufficient points on some type of scale that kept track 
of his combat exposure; either way the end of combat for him 
was at some vague point in an uncertain future. 

Vietnam was distincdy different from any war we have fought 
before or since, in that it was a war of individuals. With very few 
exceptions, every combatant arrived in Vietnam as an individual 
replacement on a twelve-month tour — thirteen months for the 
U.S. Marines. 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 269 

The average soldier had only to survive his year in hell and 
thus, for the first time, had a clear-cut way out of combat other 
than as a physical or psychological casualty. In this environment 
it was far more possible, even natural, that many soldiers would 
remain aloof, and their bonding would never develop into the 
full, mature, lifelong relationships of previous wars. This policy 
(combined with the use of drugs, maintenance of proximity to 
the combat zone, and establishment of an expectancy of returning 
to combat) resulted in an all-time-record low number of psychiatric 
casualties in Vietnam. 

Military psychiatrists and leaders believed that they had found 
a solution for the age-old problem of battlefield psychiatric casual- 
ties, a problem that, at one point in World War II, was creating 
casualties faster than we could replace them. Given a less traumatic 
war and an unconditionally positive World War II— style welcome 
to the returning veteran, this might have been an acceptable system, 
but in Vietnam what appears to have happened is that many a 
combatant simply endured traumatic experiences (experiences that 
might otherwise have been unbearable) by refusing to come to 
terms with his grief and guilt and turned instead to the escapist 
therapy of a "short timer's calendar" and the promise of "only 
forty-five days and a wake-up." 

This rotation policy (combined with the extensive use of psychi- 
atrically and self-prescribed drugs) did create an environment in 
which the incidence of psychiatric casualties on the battlefield was 
much lower than that of past wars in this century. But a tragic, 
long-term price, a price that was far too high, was paid for the 
short-term gains of this policy. 

World War II soldiers joined for the duration. A soldier may 
have come into combat as an individual replacement, but he knew 
that he would be with his unit for the rest of the war. He was 
very invested in establishing himself with his newfound unit, and 
those who were already in the unit had equal cause to bond with 
this individual, who they knew would be their comrade until the 
war was over. These individuals developed very mature, fulfilling 
relationships that for most of them have lasted throughout their 

270 Killing in Vietnam 

In Vietnam most soldiers arrived on the batdefield alone, afraid, 
and without friends. A soldier joined a unit where he was an FNG, 

a "f ing new guy," whose inexperience and incompetence 

represented a threat to the continued survival of those in the unit. 
In a few months, for a brief period, he became an old hand who 
was bonded to a few friends and able to function well in combat. 
But then, all too soon, his friends left him via death, injury, or 
the end of their tours, and he too became a short timer, whose 
only concern was surviving until the end of his tour of duty. Unit 
morale, cohesion, and bonding suffered tremendously. All but the 
best of units became just a collection of men experiencing endless 
leavings and arrivals, and that sacred process of bonding, which 
makes it possible for men to do what they must do in combat, 
became a tattered and torn remnant of the support structure experi- 
enced by veterans of past American wars. 

That does not mean that no bonds were forged, for men will 
always forge strong bonds in the face of death, but they were few 
and all too fleeting, destined never to last longer than a year and 
usually much less than that. 

The First Pharmacological War 

One of the major factors that combined with the rotation policy 
to suppress or delay dealing with psychological trauma was the 
use of a powerful new family of drugs. Soldiers in past wars often 
drank themselves into numbness, and Vietnam was no exception. 
But Vietnam was also the first war in which the forces of modern 
pharmacology were directed to empower the batdefield soldier. 

The administration of tranquilizing drugs and phenothiazines 
on the combat front first occurred in Vietnam. The soldiers who 
became psychiatric casualties were generally placed in psychiatric- 
care facilities in close proximity to the combat zone where these 
drugs were prescribed by MDs and psychiatrists. The soldiers under 
their care readily took their "medicine," and this program was 
touted as a major factor in reducing the incidence of evacuations 
of psychiatric casualties. 5 

In the same way, many soldiers "self-prescribed" marijuana and, 
to a lesser extent, opium and heroin to help them deal with the 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 271 

stress they were facing. At first it appeared that this widespread 
use of illegal drugs had no negative psychiatric result, but we soon 
came to realize that the effect of these drugs was much the same 
as the effect of the legally prescribed tranquilizers. 

Basically, whether legally or illegally used, these drugs combined 
with the one-year tour (with the knowledge that all you had to 
do was "gut out" twelve months to escape) to submerge or delay 
combat-stress reactions. Tranquilizers do not deal with psychologi- 
cal stressors; they merely do what insulin does for a diabetic: they 
treat the symptoms, but the disease is still there. 

Drugs may help make an individual more susceptible to some 
forms of therapy, if therapy is available. But if drugs are given 
while the stressor is still being experienced, then they will arrest 
or supersede the development of effective coping mechanisms, 
resulting in an increase in the long-term trauma from the stress. 
What happened in Vietnam is the moral equivalent of giving a 
soldier a local anesthetic for a gunshot wound and then sending 
him back into combat. 

At their best these drugs only served to delay the inevitable 
confrontation with the pain, suffering, grief, and guilt that the 
Vietnam veteran repressed and buried deep inside himself. And at 
worst they actually increased the impact of the trauma suffered by 
the soldier. 

The Uncleansed Veteran 
The traditional cooldown period while marching or sailing home 
in intact units forms a kind of group therapy that was not available 
to the Vietnam veteran. This, too, is essential to the mental health 
of the returning veteran, and this too was denied the American 
veteran of Vietnam. 

Arthur Hadley is a master of military psychological operations 
(psyops), author of the excellent book Straw Giant, and one of 
this century's great military intellectuals. 6 After his tour as a psyops 
commander in World War II (for which he was awarded two 
Silver Stars), Hadley conducted an extensive study on major war- 
rior societies around the world. In this study he concluded that 
all warrior societies, tribes, and nations incorporate some form of 

272 Killing in Vietnam 

purification ritual for their returning soldiers, and this ritual appears 
to be essential to the health of both the returning warrior and the 
society as a whole. 

Gabriel understands and powerfully illuminates the role of this 
purification ritual, and the price of its absence: 

Societies have always recognized that war changes men, that they 
are not the same after they return. That is why primitive societies 
often require soldiers to perform purification rites before allowing 
them to rejoin their communities. These rites often involved wash- 
ing or other forms of ceremonial cleansing. Psychologically, these 
rituals provided soldiers with a way of ridding themselves of stress 
and the terrible guilt that always accompanies the sane after war. 
It was also a way of treating guilt by providing a mechanism through 
which fighting men could decompress and relive their terror with- 
out feeling weak or exposed. Finally, it was a way of telling the 
soldier that what he did was right and that the community for 
which he fought was grateful and that, above all, his community 
of sane and normal men welcomed him back. 

Modern armies have similar mechanisms of purification. In 
WWII soldiers en route home often spent days together on troop- 
ships. Among themselves, the warriors could relive their feelings, 
express grief for lost comrades, tell each other about their fears, 
and, above all, receive the support of their fellow soldiers. They 
were provided with a sounding board for their own sanity. Upon 
reaching home, soldiers were often honored with parades or other 
civic tributes. They received the respect of their communities as 
stories of their experiences were told to children and relatives by 
proud parents and wives. All this served the same cleansing purpose 
as the rituals of the past. 

When soldiers are denied these rituals they often tend to become 
emotionally disturbed. Unable to purge their guilt or be reassured 
that what they did was right, they turned their emotions inward. 
Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were victims of this kind 
of neglect. There were no long troopship voyages where they 
could confide in their comrades. Instead, soldiers who had finished 
their tour of duty were flown home to arrive "back in the world" 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 273 

often within days, and sometimes within hours, of their last combat 
with the enemy. There were no fellow soldiers to meet them and 
to serve as a sympathetic sounding board for their experiences; no 
one to convince them of their own sanity. 

Since Vietnam, several different returning armies have applied this 
vital lesson. The British troops returning from the Falklands could 
have been airlifted home, but instead they made the long, dreary, 
and therapeutic South Atlantic crossing with their navy. 

In the same way, Israel addressed the need for a cooldown 
period among their soldiers returning from the nation's extremely 
unpopular 1982 incursion into Lebanon. They were aware that 
in the United States there occurred what some have termed a 
"conspiracy of silence" in discussing the Vietnam War and its 
moral issues upon its conclusion. Recognizing this problem and 
the need for psychological decompression, the Israelis did what 
was probably one of the healthiest things they could have done 
for the mental welfare of those who participated in their Vietnam. 
According to Shalit, the withdrawing Israeli soldiers were gathered 
by unit in meetings in which they could relax for the first time 
after many months. There they went through a lengthy process 
of "ventilating their feelings, questions, doubts, and criticisms about 
all issues: from the failure of military action and planning, to the 
unnecessary sacrifice of life and the feeling of total failure." 

And the U.S. troops deployed to Grenada, Panama, and Iraq 
left these conflicts in intact units. The continued stability of these 
units after departing the combat zone ensured that detailed (and 
psychologically essential) after-action briefings and reviews could 
be conducted at home stations. 

The Defeated Veteran 
The Vietnam veteran's belief in the justice of his cause and the 
necessity for his acts was constantly challenged and ultimately 
bankrupt when South Vietnam fell to an invasion from the North 
in 1975. A dim foreshadowing of this form of trauma can be seen 
in World War I, when the war ended without the unconditional 

274 Killing in Vietnam 

surrender of the enemy, and many veterans bitterly understood 
that it wasn't really over, over there. 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold 
War it might be legitimately argued that we did not lose in Vietnam 
any more than we lost in the Battle of the Bulge: we got pushed 
back for a while, but ultimately we won the war. But today such 
a perspective is small consolation to the Vietnam vet. For the 
Vietnam veteran there is no walking Flanders Field, no reenactment 
of D Day, no commemoration of Inchon, or any other celebration 
by grateful nations whose peace and prosperity was preserved by 
American blood and sweat and tears. For too many years the 
Vietnam veterans knew only the defeat of a nation they fought 
and suffered for and the victory of a regime that many of them 
believed to be evil and malignant enough to risk dying to fight 

Ultimately, they have been vindicated. The containment policy 
that they were an instrument of has been successful. Now the 
Russians themselves will concede the evils of communism. Hun- 
dreds of thousands of boat people attest to the disastrous nature 
of the North Vietnamese regime. Now the Cold War has ended 
in victory. And from one perspective we were no more defeated 
in Vietnam than the U.S. forces were in the Philippines or at the 
Battle of the Bulge. They lost the battle but they won the war. 
And the war was worth fighting. Perhaps we can see Vietnam 
from that perspective now, and I believe that there is truth and 
healing in that perspective. But for most Vietnam veterans this 
"victory" comes more than two decades too late. 

Unwelcomed Veterans and Unmounted Dead 

Two sources of public recognition and affirmation vital to the 
soldier are the parades that have traditionally welcomed them 
home from combat and the memorials and monuments that have 
commemorated and mourned their dead comrades. Parades are an 
essential rite of passage to the returning veteran in the same way 
that bar mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, weddings, and other 
public ceremonies are to other individuals at key periods of their 
fives. Memorials and monuments mean to the grieving veteran 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 275 

what funerals and tombstones do to any bereaved loved one. But 
rather than parades and memorials the Vietnam veteran, who had 
only done what society had trained and ordered him to do, was 
greeted by a hostile environment in which he was ashamed to 
even wear the uniform and decorations that became such a vital 
part of who he was. 

Even the twenty-year-late Vietnam Veterans Memorial had to 
be constructed in the face of the same indignity and misunder- 
standing that the veterans had endured for so long. Initially the 
memorial was not to have the flag and statue traditionally associated 
with such edifices: instead the monument to our nation's longest 
war was going to be just a "black gash of shame" with the names 
of the fallen engraved upon it. It was only after a long and bitter 
battle that veterans' groups were able to get a statue and a flagpole 
flying the U.S. flag added to their memorial. 

At their own monument, our veterans had to fight to fly the 
flag that meant so much to them. 

The thousands of veterans who wept at "the wall" and marched 
with tear-streaked faces at welcome-home parades, given two dec- 
ades after the fact, represented a sincere grieving and a true pain 
that most Americans did not even know existed. But most of all 
it represented reconciliation and healing. 

The veterans who spurn this reconciliation and "get all they 
need down at the American Legion" may simply be those who 
have withdrawn the most deeply into their shells, and as we will 
see in our look at PTSD, the cost of that shell is significant. But 
perhaps they have a right to remain in their shells, and it may be 
that the society that drove them there has no right to expect 
reconciliation or forgiveness from them. 

The Lonely Veteran 
The experience of the Vietnam veteran was distinctly different 
from that of the veterans of previous American wars. Once he 
completed his tour of duty, he usually severed all bonds with his 
unit and comrades. It was extremely rare for a veteran to write to 
his buddies who were still in combat, and (in strong contrast to 
the endless reunions of World War II veterans) for more than a 

276 Killing in Vietnam 

decade it was even rarer for two or more of them to get together 
after the war. In PTSD: A Handbook for Clinicians, Vietnam vet 
Jim Goodwin hypothesizes (I think correcdy) that "guilt about 
leaving one's buddies to an unknown fate in Vietnam apparendy 
proved so strong that many veterans were often too frightened to 
find out what happened to those left behind." Only now, two 
decades after the fact, are Vietnam veterans beginning to get over 
this survivor guilt and form veterans' associations and coalitions. 
For the Vietnam vet, the postwar years were long, lonely ones. 
But the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Memorial Day parades 
in their honor have fortified and cleansed them, and now they are 
finally beginning to find the strength and courage to reunite with 
long lost brothers and welcome one another home. 

The Condemned Veteran 

On returning from Vietnam minus my right arm, I was accosted 
twice ... by individuals who inquired, "Where did you lose your 
arm? Vietnam?" I replied, "Yes." The response was "Good. Serves 
you right." 

— James W. Wagenbach 

quoted in Bob Greene, Homecoming 

Even more important than parades and monuments are the basic, 
day-to-day attitudes toward the returning veteran. Lord Moran 
felt that public support was a key factor in the returning veteran's 
psychological health. He believed that Britain's failure to provide 
her World War I and World War II soldiers the support they 
needed resulted in many psychological problems. 

If Lord Moran could detect a lack of concern and acceptance 
that had a significant impact on the psychological welfare of World 
War I and World War II veterans in England, how much greater 
was the adverse impact of the Vietnam vet's much more hostile 

Richard Gabriel describes the experience: 

The presence of a Viet Nam veteran in uniform in his home town 
was often the occasion for glares and slurs. He was not told that 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 277 

he had fought well; nor was he reassured that he had done only 
what his country and fellow citizens had asked him to do. Instead 
of reassurance there was often condemnation — baby killer, mur- 
derer — until he too began to question what he had done and, 
ultimately, his sanity. The result was that at least 500,000 — perhaps 
as many as 1 ,500,000 — returning Viet Nam veterans suffered some 
degree of psychiatric debilitation, called Post-Traumatic Stress Dis- 
order, an illness which has become associated in the public mind 
with an entire generation of soldiers sent to war in Vietnam. 

As a result of this, Gabriel concludes that Vietnam produced more 
psychiatric casualties than any other war in American history. 

Numerous psychological studies have found that the social sup- 
port system — or lack thereof — upon returning from combat is 
a critical factor in the veteran's psychological health. Indeed, social 
support after war has been demonstrated in a large body of research 
(by psychiatrists, military psychologists, Veterans Administration 
mental-health professionals, and sociologists) to be more crucial 
than even the intensity of combat experienced. 7 When the Vietnam 
War began to become unpopular the soldiers who were fighting 
that war began to pay a psychological price for it, even before 
they returned home. 

Psychiatric casualties increase greatly when the soldier feels iso- 
lated, and psychological and social isolation from home and society 
was one of the results of the growing antiwar sentiment in the 
United States. One manifestation of this isolation, noted by numer- 
ous authors such as Gabriel, was an increase in Dear John letters. 
As the war became more and more unpopular back home, it 
became increasingly common for girlfriends, fiancees, and even 
wives to dump the soldiers who depended upon them. Their letters 
were an umbilical cord to the sanity and decency that they believed 
they were fighting for. And a significant increase in such letters 
as well as many other forms of psychological and social isolation 
probably account for much of the tremendous increase in psychiat- 
ric casualties suffered late in that war. According to Gabriel, early 
in the war evacuations for psychiatric conditions reached only 6 
percent of total medical evacuations, but by 1971, the percentage 

278 Killing in Vietnam 

represented by psychiatric casualties had increased to 50 percent. 
These psychiatric casualty ratings were similar to home-front ap- 
proval ratings for the war, and an argument can be made that 
psychiatric casualties can be impacted by public disapproval. 

The greatest indignity heaped upon the soldier waited for him 
when he returned home. Often veterans were verbally abused 
and physically attacked or even spit upon. The phenomenon of 
returning soldiers being spit on deserves special attention here. 
Many Americans do not believe (or do not want to believe) that 
such events ever occurred. Bob Greene, a syndicated newspaper 
columnist, was one of those who believed these accounts were 
probably a myth. Greene issued a request in his column for anyone 
who had actually experienced such an event to write in and tell 
of it. He received more than a thousand letters in response, col- 
lected in his book, Homecoming. 

A typical account is that of Douglas Detmer: 

I was spat upon in the San Francisco airport. . . . The man who 
spat on me ran up to me from my left rear, spat, and turned to 
face me. The spitde hit me on my left shoulder and on my few 
military decorations above my left breast pockets. He then shouted 

at me that I was a "mother f ing murderer." I was quite shocked 

and just stared at him. . . . 

That combat veterans returning from months of warfare should 
accept such acts without violence is an indication of their emotional 
state. They were euphoric over finally returning home alive; many 
were exhausted after days of travel, shell-shocked, confused, dehy- 
drated, and emaciated from months in the bush, in culture shock 
after months in an alien land, under orders not to do anything to 
"disgrace the uniform," and deeply worried about missing flights. 
Isolated and alone, the returning veterans in this condition were 
sought out and humiliated by war protesters who had learned from 
experience of the vulnerability of these men. 

The accusations of their tormentors always revolved around the 
act of killing. When those who had in any way participated in 
killing activities were called baby killers and murderers, the result 
was often deep traumatization and scarring as a result of the hostile 

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers? 279 

and accusing "homecoming" from the nation for which they had 
suffered and sacrificed. And this was the only homecoming they 
were to receive. At worst: open hostility and spittle. Or at best, 
as one put it in his letter to Greene, an "indifference that verged 
on insouciance." 

At some level every psychologically healthy human being who 
has engaged in or supported killing activities believes that his action 
was "wrong" and "bad," and he must spend years rationalizing 
and accepting his actions. Many of the veterans who wrote to 
Greene stated that their letter to him was the first time they had 
ever spoken about the incident to anyone. These returning veterans 
had shamefully and silently accepted the accusations of their fellow 
citizens. They had broken the ultimate taboo, they had killed, and 
at some level they felt that they deserved to be spit upon and 
punished. When they were publicly insulted and humiliated the 
trauma was magnified and reinforced by the soldier's own impotent 
acceptance of these events. And these acts, combined with their 
acceptance of them, became the confirmation of their deepest fears 
and guilt. 

In the Vietnam veterans manifesting PTSD (and probably in 
many who don't exhibit PTSD symptoms) the rationalization and 
acceptance process appears to have failed and is replaced with 
denial. The typical veteran of past wars, when asked "Did it bother 
you?" would answer, as a veteran did to Havighurst after World 
War II, "Hell yes. . . . You can't go through that without being 
influenced." The Vietnam veteran's defensive response to a nation 
accusing him of being a baby killer and murderer is consistently, 
as it was to Mantell and has been so many times to me, "No, it 
never really bothered me. . . . You get used to it." This defensive 
repression and denial of emotions appear to have been one of the 
major causes of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

An Agony of Many Blows 

American veterans of past wars have encountered all of these factors 
at one time or another, but never in American history has the 
combination of psychological blows inflicted upon a group of 
returning warriors been so intense. The soldiers of the Confederacy 

280 Killing in Vietnam 

lost their war, but upon their return they were generally greeted 
and supported warmly by those for whom they had fought. Korean 
War veterans had no memorials and precious few parades, but 
they fought an invading army, not an insurgency, and they left 
behind them the free, healthy, thriving, and grateful nation of 
South Korea as their legacy. No one spat on them or called them 
murderers or baby killers when they returned. Only the veterans 
of Vietnam have endured a concerted, organized, psychological 
attack by their own people. Douglas Detmer shows remarkable 
insight into the organization and scope of this attack: 

Opponents of the war used every means available to them to 
make the war effort ineffective. This was partially accomplished 
by usurping many of the traditional symbols of war and claiming 
them as their own. Among these were the two-fingered V-for- 
victory sign, which was claimed as a peace symbol; headlights on 
Memorial Day used as a call for ending the war, rather than denoting 
the memory of a lost loved one; utilizing old uniforms as anti-war 
attire, instead of proud symbols of prior service; legitimate deeds 
of valor denounced as bully-like acts of murder; and the welcome- 
home parade replaced with what I experienced. 

Never in American history, perhaps never in all the history of 
Western civilization, has an army suffered such an agony of many 
blows from its own people. And today we reap the legacy of 
those blows. 

Chapter Three 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 
and the Cost of Killing in Vietnam 

The Legacy of Vietnam: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Before a presentation to the leadership of New York's Jewish War 
Veterans, in a grand old hotel up in the Catskills, over a bowl of 
borscht, I met Claire, a woman who knew the meaning of PTSD. 
She had been a nurse in Burma during World War II and had 
seen more human suffering than any person should. It had never 
really bothered her, but when the Gulf War started, she began to 
have nightmares. Nightmares of an endless stream of torn and 
mangled bodies. She was suffering from PTSD. A mild case, but 
PTSD nonetheless. 

After another presentation in New York, a veteran's wife asked 
me to talk with her and her husband. At Anzio he had won the 
Distinguished Service Cross, our nation's second-highest award 
for valor, and he continued to fight throughout World War II. 
Five years ago he retired. Now all he will do is sit around the 
house and watch war movies, and he is obsessed with the idea 
that he is a coward. He is suffering from PTSD. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder has always been with us, but the 
long delay time and the erratic nature of its occurrence has made 

282 Killing in Vietnam 

us like the ancient Celts who did not understand the link between 
sex and pregnancy. 

What Is PTSD? 

Vietnam was an American nightmare that hasn't yet ended for 
veterans of the war. In the rush to forget the debacle that became 
our longest war, America found it necessary to conjure up a scape- 
goat and transferred the heavy burden of blame onto the shoulders 
of the Vietnam veteran. It's been a crushing weight for them to 
carry. Rejected by the nation that sent them off to war, the veterans 
have been plagued with guilt and resentment which has created 
an identity crisis unknown to veterans of previous wars. 

— D. Andrade 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is described by the American Psycho- 
logical Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disor- 
ders as "a reaction to a psychologically traumatic event outside the 
range of normal experience." Manifestations of PTSD include 
recurrent and intrusive dreams and recollections of the experience, 
emotional blunting, social withdrawal, exceptional difficulty or 
reluctance in initiating or maintaining intimate relationships, and 
sleep disturbances. These symptoms can in turn lead to serious 
difficulties in readjusting to civilian life, resulting in alcoholism, 
divorce, and unemployment. The symptoms persist for months or 
years after the trauma, often emerging after a long delay. 

Estimates of the number of Vietnam veterans suffering from 
PTSD range from the Disabled American Veterans figure of 
500,000 to Harris and Associates 1980 estimate of 1.5 million, or 
somewhere between 18 and 54 percent of the 2.8 million military 
personnel who served in Vietnam. 

How Does PTSD Relate to Killing? 

Societies which ask men to fight on their behalf should be aware 
of what the consequences of their actions may so easily be. 

— Richard Holmes 
Acts of War 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 




x s- 



Degree of Trauma 




Social Support 

Relationship Between Degree of Trauma and Degree of Social Support in PTSD Cau- 

In 1988, a major study by Jeanne and Steven Stellman at Columbia 
University examined the relationship between PTSD manifesta- 
tions and a soldier's involvement in the killing process. This study 
of 6,810 randomly selected veterans is the first in which combat 
levels have been quantified. Stellman and Stellman found that the 
victims of PTSD are almost solely veterans who participated in 
high-intensity combat situations. These veterans suffer far higher 
incidence of divorce, marital problems, tranquilizer use, alcohol- 
ism, joblessness, heart disease, high blood pressure, and ulcers. 
As far as PTSD symptoms are concerned, soldiers who were in 
noncombat situations in Vietnam were found to be statistically 
indistinguishable from those who spent their entire enlistment in 
the United States. 

During the Vietnam era millions of American adolescents were 
conditioned to engage in an act against which they had a powerful 
resistance. This conditioning is a necessary part of allowing a soldier 

284 Killing in Vietnam 

to succeed and survive in the environment where society has placed 
him. Success in war and national survival may necessitate killing 
enemy soldiers in battle. If we accept that we need an army, then 
we must accept that it has to be as capable of surviving as we can 
make it. But if society prepares a soldier to overcome his resistance 
to killing and places him in an environment in which he will kill, 
then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligendy, 
and morally with the psychological event and its repercussions 
upon the soldier and the society. Largely through an ignorance of 
the processes and implications involved, this has not happened 
with the Vietnam veteran. 

PTSD and Nonkillers: Accessory to Murder? 

After I had presented the essence of the hypotheses in this book 
to the leadership of a state Vietnam Veterans Coalition, one of 
the vets said to me, "Your premise [the trauma of killing, enabled 
by conditioning, and amplified by society's "homecoming"] is 
valid not only for those who killed, but for those who supported 
the killing." 

This was the state's Veteran of the Year, a lawyer named Dave, 
who was an articulate, dynamic leader within the organization. 
"The truck driver who drove the ammo up," he explained, "also 
drove dead bodies back. There is no definitive distinction between 
the guy pulling the trigger, and the guy who supported him in 

"And," said another veteran, almost whispering, "society didn't 
make any distinction in who they spat on." 

"And," continued Dave, "just like . . . if you came in this room 
and attacked one of us you would be attacking all of us . . . society, 
this nation, attacked every one of us." 

His point is valid. Everyone in that room understood that he 
was not talking about the veterans of noncombat situations in 
Vietnam who, according to Stellman and Stellman, were found 
to be statistically indistinguishable from those who spent their 
entire enlistment in the United States. 

Dave was referring to the veterans who participated in high- 
intensity combat situations. They may not have killed, but they 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 285 

were there in the midst of the killing, and they were confronted 
daily with the results of their contributions to the war. 

In study after study two factors show up again and again as 
critical to the magnitude of the post- traumatic response. First and 
most obvious is the intensity of the initial trauma. The second and 
less obvious but absolutely vital factor is the nature of the social 
support structure available to the traumatized individual. In rapes, 
we have come to understand the magnitude of the trauma inflicted 
upon the victim by the defense tactic of accusing the victim during 
trials and have taken legal steps to prevent and constrain such 
attacks upon the victim by a defendant's attorneys. In combat, the 
relationship between the nature of the trauma and the nature of 
the social support structure is the same. 

PTSD in the World War II Veteran 

The degree of trauma and the degree of social support work 
together to amplify each other in a kind of multiplicative relation- 
ship. For instance, let us take two hypothetical World War II 
veterans. One of them was a twenty-three-year-old infantryman 
who saw extensive combat, killed enemy soldiers at close range, 
and held his buddy in his arms as he died from close-range enemy 
small-arms fire. The trauma he endured would probably rate at 
the very top of the degree-of-trauma scale. 

Our other World War II veteran was a twenty-five-year-old 
truck driver (he might just as easily have been an artilleryman, an 
airplane mechanic, or a bos'n's mate on a navy supply ship) who 
served honorably, but never really got up to the front lines. Al- 
though he was in an area that took some incoming artillery (or 
bombing or torpedoes) on a few occasions, he never was even in 
a situation where it was expected that he would have to shoot at 
anyone, and no one ever really shot at him. But he did have 
someone he knew killed by that artillery fire (or bombs or torpe- 
does), and he did see the constant remains of death and carnage 
as he moved along behind the advancing Allied fines. He would 
be placed very low on our degree-of-trauma scale. 

When our hypothetical World War II veterans came home after 
the war they returned as a unit together with the same guys they 

286 Killing in Vietnam 

had spent the whole war with, on board a ship, spending weeks 
joking, laughing, gambling, and telling tall tales as they cooled 
down and depressurized in what psychologists would call a very 
supportive group-therapy environment on the long voyage home. 
And if they had doubts about what they'd done, or fears about 
the future, they had a sympathetic group to talk to. Jim Goodwin 
notes in his book how resort hotels were taken over and made 
into redistribution stations to which these veterans brought their 
wives and devoted two weeks to reacquainting themselves with 
their family on the best possible terms, in an environment in which 
they were still surrounded by the company of their fellow veterans. 
Goodwin also observes that the civilian population they were 
returning to had been prepared to help and understand the re- 
turning veteran through movies such as The Man in the Gray Flannel 
Suit, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Pride of the Marines. They 
were victorious, they were justifiably proud of themselves, and 
their nation was proud of them and let them know it. 

Our infantryman was one of the comparatively few World War 
II vets who participated in a ticker-tape parade in New York. 
Everyone griped about how what they really wanted to do was 
put all this "Army BS" behind them, but he would privately admit 
that marching in front of those tens of thousands of cheering 
civilians was one of the high points of his life, and today even 
just the remembrance of it tends to make his chest swell a little 
with pride. 

Our truck driver, like the majority of returning vets, did not 
participate in a ticker-tape parade, but he would probably say that 
it made him feel good to know that vets were being honored. 
And next Memorial Day he did march in his hometown parade 
as part of the American Legion's commemoration ceremonies. No 
one was making him do it, but he did it anyway because, well 
damn it, because he felt like it, and he would keep on doing it 
every year just like the World War I vets in his town had done 
as he was growing up. 

Both our veterans generally stayed in touch with their World 
War II buddies, and they finked up with their old comrades in 
reunions and informal get-togethers. And that was nice, but what 
was really best about being a veteran was being able to hold 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 287 

your head high and knowing just how much your family, friends, 
community, and nation respected you and were proud of you. 
The GI Bill was passed, and if some politician or bureaucrat or 
organization didn't give the vet the respect he deserved, well, 
buddy, they would have to answer to the influence and votes of 
the American Legion and the VFW, who would make damn sure 
you got treated right. 

On our social-support scale, social support provided to these 
two veterans can be rated as very supportive. Not all returning 
World War II vets got this kind of support, and it was no bed of 
roses to return from combat under the best of circumstances, but 
their nation generally did the best for them that it could. 

Remember that the relationship between the degree-of-trauma 
scale and the social-support scale is multiplicative. These two factors 
amplify each other. For our infantryman that means that his highly 
traumatic experience was largely (but perhaps not completely) 
negated by the very supportive social structure he returned to. 
Our truck driver, suffering very little trauma and having received 
a great deal of support, will probably be able to deal with his combat 
experiences. Our infantryman may tend to medicate himself pretty 
regularly down at the bar at the American Legion, but like most 
veterans he will probably continue to function and lead a perfectly 
healthy life. 

PTSD in the Vietnam Veteran 

Now let us consider two hypothetical Vietnam veterans, an eigh- 
teen-year-old infantryman and a nineteen-year-old truck driver. 
The infantryman arrived at the combat zone, like most every other 
soldier in Vietnam, as an individual replacement who didn't know 
a soul in his unit. Eventually he engaged in extensive close combat. 
He killed several enemy soldiers, but the hard part was that they 
were wearing civilian clothes, and one of them, well, damn, he 
was just a kid, couldn't have been more than twelve. And he had 
his best buddy die in his arms during a firefight. The trauma he 
endured definitely rates at the top end of the scale. Maybe fighting 
kids in civilian clothes, with no rear lines and no chance to ever 
really rest and get away from the battle, maybe that makes the 
trauma he endured greater than that of the World War II vet, but 

288 Killing in Vietnam 

at the top of the trauma scale there probably isn't much value in 
trying to distinguish between shades of black. 

The truck driver also arrived alone, but although his job was 
the same as a World War II truck driver, the environment in 
which he had to do it had changed. There was no rear area for 
him, you could never really let your guard down, even when you 
were off duty, and convoys were one long hell of fear from am- 
bushes and mines. It was like living in the Battle of the Bulge all 
the time. Convoys into base camps were often like some kind 
of "Relief of Bastogne," and his truck was always armored and 
sandbagged in a way that a World War II truck driver would 
probably never even have considered doing. Fortunately, he never 
did have to shoot at anybody, but that was always a possibility, 
and he kept his weapon handy and loaded all the time, and plenty 
of people were shooting in his general direction on several occa- 
sions. Our Vietnam-era truck driver might rate low on the trauma 
scale, slightly higher than his counterpart in World War II, but 
not unmanageably so. 

Our two Vietnam veterans departed the war the way they had 
arrived: alone. They departed with a mixture of joy at having 
survived and shame at having left their buddies behind. Instead of 
returning to parades, they found antiwar marches. Instead of luxury 
hotels, they were sent to locked and guarded military bases where 
they were processed back to civilian life in a few days. Instead of 
movies about the veteran, his struggles, and his vulnerable emo- 
tional state upon reentry into civilian life, the media prepared 
the American people by calling the returning veterans "depraved 
fiends" and "psychopathic killers," and beautiful young movie 
stars led the accusing chant of a nation that echoed through the 
veteran's soul: "Baby killers . . . murderers . . . butchers . . ." 

They were rejected by girlfriends, spit on, and accused by strang- 
ers and finally dared not even admit to close friends that they were 
veterans. They did not show up for Memorial Day parades (which 
had gone out of style), they did not join the VFW or the Ameri- 
can Legion, and they did not participate in any reunions or get- 
togethers with old comrades. They denied their experiences and 
buried their pain and grieving beneath a shell. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 289 

Some Vietnam vets had families and communities that could 
insulate them from this, but the vast majority had only to turn on 
the TV to find themselves being attacked. Even the most average 
of Vietnam vets endured an absolutely unprecedented degree of 
societal condemnation. On our social-support scale, our two Viet- 
nam veterans rated at the "condemn" end of the scale. 

Remember the multiplicative, amplifying relationship between 
trauma and social support. For our truck driver the interaction 
between his limited combat trauma in Vietnam and the societal 
condemnation that he endured afterward resulted in a total experi- 
ence that might very well have been more conducive to post- 
traumatic stress than that experienced by a veteran of close combat 
in World War II. For our infantry veteran of Vietnam the magni- 
tude of the total trauma experienced is beyond description. 

The diffusion of responsibility that happens in combat is a two- 
way street. It absolves a killer of a part of his guilt, diffusing it to 
the leaders who gave the order and the truck driver who brought 
the ammo and hauled back the bodies, but it does so by giving a 
piece of the killer's guilt to others, and those others must then 
deal with it just as surely as must the killer. If these "accessories" 
to killing in combat are accused and condemned, then their slice 
of the trauma, guilt, and responsibility is amplified, and it will 
reverberate in their souls as shock and horror. 

The Vietnam vet, the average vet who did no killing, is suffering 
an agony of guilt and torment created by society's condemnation. 
During and immediately after Vietnam our society judged and 
condemned millions of returning veterans as accessories to murder. 
At one level many, even most, of these horrified, confused veterans 
accepted society's media-driven, kangaroo-court conviction as jus- 
tice and locked themselves in prisons of the wont kind, prisons 
in their mind. A prison whose name was PTSD. 

I have known these men, both our two "hypothetical" World 
War II vets and our two Vietnam vets. They are not hypothetical 
at all. They are real. Their pain is real. Societies that ask men to 
fight on their behalf should be aware of what the consequences 
and what the price of their actions may so easily be. 

Chapter Four 

The Limits of Human Endurance and the 
Lessons of Vietnam 

PTSD and Vietnam: A Nexus of Impact upon Society 

For the Vietnam infantryman in the example in the last chapter, 
the condemnation upon his return amplified the horror of his 
combat experiences to result in a staggering degree of horror. By 
the very nature of its unique historical causation, the existence 
of any significant number of individuals in such a condition is 
unprecedented in the history of Western civilization. 

Although this model only crudely reflects what has happened, 
it begins to represent the relevant forces. 8 Statistics on the horrible 
number of suicides among Vietnam vets, on the tragic number of 
homeless who are Vietnam vets, on divorce rates, drug-use rates, 
and so on, give evidence that something has occurred that is 
significantly, startlingly different from that occurring after World 
War II or any other war our nation has ever encountered. 9 

There is a nexus of events and causation linking the death of 
enemy soldiers and the spittle of war protesters with a pattern of 
suicide, homelessness, mental illness, and divorce that will ripple 
through the United States for generations to come. 

The 1978 President's Commission on Mental Health tells us 
that approximately 2.8 million Americans served in Southeast Asia, 

The Limits of Human Endurance 291 

and almost 1 million of them saw active combat service or were 
exposed to hostile, life-threatening situations. If we accept the 
Veterans Administration's conservative figures of 15 percent inci- 
dence of PTSD among Vietnam veterans, then more than 400,000 
individuals in the United States suffer from PTSD. Other figures 
place this number as high as 1.5 million veterans suffering from 
PTSD as a result of the Vietnam War. Whatever their numbers, 
there are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of them, they are 
four times more likely to be divorced or separated (and those not 
divorced are significantly more likely to have a troubled marriage), 
they represent a large proportion of America's homeless population, 
and as the years go by they are increasingly more likely to com- 
mit suicide. 

Thus, the long-term legacy of the Vietnam War upon American 
society is not just hundreds of thousands of troubled veterans, it 
is also hundreds of thousands of troubled marriages impacting 
women, children, and future generations. For we know that chil- 
dren of broken families are more likely to be physically and sexually 
abused, and that children of divorce are more likely to become 
divorced as adults, and that victims of child abuse are more likely 
to become child-abusing adults. And this is only one facet of the 
price this nation will pay for those personal kills in the jungles 
of Vietnam. 

It may indeed be necessary to engage in a war, but we must begin 
to understand the potential long-term price of such endeavors. 

The Legacy and the Lesson 

Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. 
Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. 

— Ted Perry (Writing as "Chief Seattle") 

We may have enhanced the killing ability of the average soldier 
through training (that is, conditioning), but at what price? The 
ultimate cost of our body counts in Vietnam has been, and contin- 
ues to be, much more than dollars and lives. We can, and have, 
conditioned soldiers to kill — they are eager and willing and trust 
our judgment. But in doing so we have not made them capable 

292 Killing in Vietnam 

of handling the moral and social burdens of these acts, and we 
have a moral responsibility to consider the long-term effects of 
our commands. Moral direction and philosophical guidance, based 
on a firm understanding of the processes involved, must come 
with the combat training and deployment of our soldiers. 

At the national strategic level, a recognition of the potential 
social cost of modern warfare has been obtained at a terrible price, 
and a form of moral and philosophical guidance gained from this 
experience can be found in the Weinberger doctrine — named 
after Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense for President Reagan. 
This doctrine represents an initial attempt to form the kind of 
moral direction and philosophical guidance that can be built upon 
the lessons of Vietnam. The Weinberger doctrine states that: 

• "The United States should not commit forces to combat unless 
our vital interests are at stake." 

• "We must commit them in sufficient numbers and with sufficient 
support to win." 

• "We must have clearly defined political and military objectives." 

• "We must never again commit forces to a war we do not intend 
to win." 

• "Before the United States commits forces abroad, the U.S. gov- 
ernment should have some reasonable assurance of the support 
of the American people and their elected representatives in the 
Congress. . . . U.S. troops cannot be asked to fight a batde with 
the Congress at home while attempting to win a war overseas. 
Nor will the American people sit by and watch U.S. troops 
committed as expendable pawns on some grand diplomatic 

• "Finally, the commitment of U.S. troops should be as a last 

A Quest for Further Understanding 

The Weinberger doctrine represents, in part, the recognition that 
a nation that sends men out to kill must understand the price that 
it may have to ultimately pay for these seemingly isolated deeds 
in distant lands. If this doctrine and the spirit in which it is intended 

The Limits of Human Endurance 293 

prevails, it may prevent a recurrence of the Vietnam experience. 
But this is just the beginning of a basis for understanding the 
potentially devastating social costs of modern war at other levels. 

Commanders, families, and society need to understand the sol- 
dier's desperate need for recognition and acceptance, his vulnerabil- 
ity, and his desperate need to be constantly reassured that what he 
(or she) did was right and necessary, and the terrible social costs 
of failing to provide for these needs with the traditional acts of 
affirmation and acceptance. It is to our national shame that it has 
taken us almost twenty years to recognize and fulfill these needs 
with the Vietnam War Memorial and the veterans' parades that 
have allowed our veterans to "wipe a little spit off their hearts." 

The military also must understand the need for unit integrity 
during and after combat. We are beginning to do so with the 
army's new personnel system (which assigns and replaces whole 
units instead of single individuals in combat), and we must continue 
to do so; and like the British, who took their soldiers home from 
the Falklands by long, slow sea voyage, we must understand the 
need for cooldown periods, parades, and unit integrity during the 
vulnerable period of returning from war. During the 1991 Gulf 
War it appears that we generally got these things right, but we 
must make sure that we always do so in the future. 

The psychological, psychiatric, medical, counseling, and social 
work communities must understand the impact of combat kills on 
the soldier and must attempt to further understand and reinforce 
the rationalization and acceptance process outlined in this book. 
In their 1988 research on PTSD Stellman and Stellman, both 
chemists by training, were the first to conduct a large-scale correla- 
tion study on the relationship between combat experience and 
PTSD. They reported that the "great majority" of veterans turning 
to mental-health services were not asked about their combat expe- 
riences, let alone their personal kills. 

Last, we must attempt to understand the basic act of killing, not 
just in war, but throughout our society. 

A Personal Note 

"Who the f are the two guys up here with the machine gun?" 

I asked, slinking back over the edge of the cliff. 

294 Killing in Vietnam 

"That's gotta be Charlie, you asshole . . . Blow their ass up 
and run. . . ." 

They didn't know I existed. Low underbrush shielded the edge 
of the cliff from their view, but I sure as hell saw them. My body 
started to shake and spasm as I rested my elbow on the hard laterite. 
I sighted down the barrel and put the front sight under one guy's 
chest. He was sitting closest to the machine gun, and he would 
die because of it. 

This is one f ed up way to die, I thought as I squeezed softly 

on the trigger. 

The explosion of the round roared like a cannon in my ear. My 
target flattened out, and for an instant I couldn't tell if he ducked 
or had been hit. The doubts disappeared when I saw his foot quiver 
and his body shudder before he died. 

I was so transfixed by his death throes that I never fired a shot 
at the other guy, who escaped into the thick brush to the south. 
I jumped over the cliff and ran to reach the dying man, not sure 
if I wanted to help him or finish him. Something made me have 
to see him, what he looked like, how he died. 

I knelt beside him as his life leaked into the dusty earth. My 
one shot had hit him in the left chest and ripped through his back. 
The rest of the patrol was scrambling up the cliff and shouting, 
but the only sound I heard was the soft bubbling of the dead man's 
blood as it soaked into the dirt. His eyes were open, and his face 
was still young. He looked terribly peaceful. His war was over and 
mine had just begun. 

The steady stream of blood from his wound made a widening 
circle of darkness beneath him, and I felt my innocence deserting 
me as his life deserted him. I'd come all the way to Vietnam now. 
I didn't know if I'd ever get out. I still don't. 

As the rest of the platoon reached the plateau, I found a bush 
on the flank of the campfire and retched violently. 

— Steve Banko 
"Green Grunt Finds Innocence Lost" 

Looking back on this narrative from the perspective of this point 
in the book, I find that there are many factors to be considered. 

The Limits of Human Endurance 295 

Our newfound science of killology permits us to identify such key 
processes as the need to be ordered to kill (demands of authority 
and diffusion of responsibility), the picking out of the enemy 
soldier who was closest to the machine gun (target attractiveness 
and assisting in the rationalization process by picking the greater 
potential threat of two individuals who represented no immediate 
threat), and the emotional response of violent revulsion to the act 
of killing. 

But what sticks in my mind is the phrase: "I didn't know if I'd 
ever get out. I still don't." Those words haunt me. 

This is no Ramboesque machismo; this is the actual emotional 
response of a young American soldier to one of the most horrifying 
events of his life. As he writes this to a national forum of understand- 
ing and sympathetic Vietnam veterans, he and many like him can 
be free to say that they were sickened by killing — and their 
writing and its publication become a vital catharsis. I believe that 
as these veterans write such narratives, they do not mean to say 
that the war was wrong or that they regret what they did, but that 
they simply want to be understood. 

Understood not as mindless killers, and not as sniveling whiners, 
but as men. Men who went to do the incomprehensibly difficult 
job their nation sent them to do and did it proudly, did it well, 
and all too often did it thanklessly. 

As I interviewed veterans during this study, the soldier, the 
psychologist, and the human being in me were always touched 
by this desperate, unspoken need for understanding and affirmation. 
Understanding that they did no more and no less than their nation 
and their society asked them to do; no more and no less than 200 
years of American veterans had honorably done. And affirmation 
that they were good human beings. 

Over and over again I have said, and before I go on to the final 
section, "Killing in America," I want to say again, I am honored 
that you have shared this with me. You did all that anyone could 
ask you to have done, and I am truly proud to have known you. 
And I hope that I can use your words to help people understand. 


Killing in America: 

What Are We Doing to Our Children? 

Chapter One 

A Virus of Violence 

How simple it now seems for our ancestors to have stood outside 
their caves guarding against the fang and claw of predators. The 
evil that we must stand vigilant against is like a virus, starting from 
deep inside us, eating its way out until we're devoured by and 
become its madness. 

— Richard Heckler 

In Search of the Warrior Spirit 

The Magnitude of the Problem 

If we examine the chart showing the relationship between murder, 
aggravated assault, and imprisonment in America since 1957, we 
see something that should astound us. 

"Aggravated assault" is defined in the Statistical Abstract (from 
which this data was gathered) as "assault with intent to kill or for 
the purpose of inflicting severe bodily injury by shooting, cutting, 
stabbing, maiming, poisoning, scalding, or by the use of acids, 
explosives, or other means." We are also informed that this "ex- 
cludes simple assaults." 1 

The aggravated assault rate indicates the incidence of Americans 
trying to kill one another, and it is going up at an astounding rate. 
Two major factors serve as tourniquets that suppress the bleeding 


Killing in America 










80 r 1 

Imprisonment rate (per 100,000) 



Murder rate (per 100,000) 

"I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I | | | | | | | | | | 
57 60 65 70 75 80 


I I I I I I I 
85 90 

The Relationship Between Aggravated Assault, Murder, and Imprisonment Rates in 
America Since 1957 

A Virus of Violence 301 

that would occur if the number of murders increased at the same 
rate as aggravated assaults. First is the steady increase in the presum- 
ably violent percentage of our population that we imprison. The 
prison population in America has quadrupled since 1975 (from 
just over two hundred thousand to slighdy more than eight hundred 
thousand in 1992: nearly a million Americans in jail!). Professor 
John J. Dilulio of Princeton states unequivocally that "dozens of 
credible empirical analyses . . . leave no doubt that the increased 
use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes." If not for our 
tremendous imprisonment rate (the highest of any major industrial- 
ized nation in the world), the aggravated assault rate and the murder 
rate would both be even higher. 

The other major factor that limits the success of these attempts 
at killing is the continued progress in medical technology and 
methodology. Professor James Q. Wilson of UCLA estimates that 
if the quality of medical care (especially trauma and emergency 
care) were the same as it was in 1957, today's murder rate would 
be three times higher. Helicopter medevacs, 911 operators, para- 
medics, and trauma centers are but a few of the technological and 
methodological innovations that save lives at ever-increasing rates. 
This more rapid and effective response, evacuation, and treatment 
of victims is the decisive factor in preventing the murder rate from 
being many times higher than it is now. 

It is also interesting to note the dip in aggravated assault rates 
between 1980 and 1983. Some observers believed this was due to 
the maturing of the baby-boom generation and the overall aging 
of America and that violent crime would continue to decrease in 
succeeding yean. However, this did not happen, and, in retrospect, 
although the aging of our society should cause a decrease in violence, 
a major factor may have been the sharp increase in the imprison- 
ment rate during that period. 

But demographers predict that our aging society will again be- 
come more youthful as the children of the baby boom have their 
own teenagers. And just how much longer can America afford to 
imprison larger and larger percentages of its population? And how 
much longer can advances in medical technology continue to keep 
up with advances in the aggravated assault rate? 

302 Killing in America 

Like Alice, we are running as fast as we can to stay where we 
are. America's huge imprisonment rate and desperate application 
of medical progress are technological tourniquets to stop us from 
bleeding to death in an orgy of violence. But they do so by dealing 
with the symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause. 

The Cause of the Problem: Taking the Safety Catch off of 
a Nation 

We know, as surely as we know that we are alive, that the whole 
human race is dancing on the edge of the grave. . . . 

The easiest and worst mistake we could make would be to blame 
our present dilemma on the mere technology of war. ... It is 
our attitudes toward war and our uses for it that really demand 
our attention. 

— Gwynne Dyer 

What is the root cause of this epidemic of violence in our society? 
An application of the lessons of combat killing may have much 
to teach us about the constraint and control of peacetime violence. 
Are the same processes the military used so effectively to enable killing in 
our adolescent, draftee soldiers in Vietnam being indiscriminately applied 
to the civilian population of this nation? 

The three major psychological processes at work in enabling 
violence are classical conditioning (a la Pavlov's dog), operant 
conditioning (a la B. F. Skinner's rats), and the observation and 
imitation of vicarious role models in social learning. 

In a kind of reverse Clockwork Orange classical conditioning 
process, adolescents in movie theaters across the nation, and watch- 
ing television at home, are seeing the detailed, horrible suffering 
and killing of human beings, and they are learning to associate this 
killing and suffering with entertainment, pleasure, their favorite 
soft drink, their favorite candy bar, and the close, intimate contact 
of their date. 

Operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and 
immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldi en in modern 

A Virus of Violence 303 

armies, are found in the interactive video games that our children 
play today. But whereas the adolescent Vietnam vet had stimulus 
discriminators built in to ensure that he only fired under authority, 
the adolescents who play these video games have no such safeguard 
built into their conditioning. 

And, finally, social learning is being used as children learn to 
observe and imitate a whole new realm of dynamic vicarious role 
models, such as Jason and Freddy of endless Friday the 13th and 
Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, along with a host of other horren- 
dous, sadistic murderers. Even the more classic heroes, such as the 
archetypal law-abiding police detective, is today portrayed as a 
murderous, unstable vigilante who operates outside the law. 

There are more factors involved. This is a complex, interactive 
process that includes all the factors that enable killing in combat. 
Gang leaders and gang members demand violent, even killing, 
activity and create diffusion of individual responsibility; and gang 
affiliation, loosening family and religious ties, racism, class differ- 
ences, and the availability of weapons provide forms of real and 
emotional distance between the killer and the victim. If we look 
again at our model for killing-enabling factors and apply it to 
civilian killing, we can see the way in which all of these factors 
interact to enable violence in America. 

All of these factors are important. Drugs, gangs, poverty, racism, 
and guns are all vital ingredients in a process that has resulted in 
skyrocketing violence rates in our society. But drugs have always 
been a problem, just as drugs (alcohol, and so on) have always 
been present in combat. Gangs have always been present, just as 
combat has always taken place in organized units. Poverty and 
racism have always been a part of our society (often much more 
so than today), just as propaganda, class divisions, and racism have 
always been manipulated in combat. And guns have always been 
present in American society, just as they have always been present 
in American wars. 

In the 1950s and 1960s students brought knives to high school, 
whereas today they bring .22s. But those .22s were pretty much al- 
ways present at home. And while there is new weapons technology 

304 Killing in America 

available, fifteen minutes with a hacksaw will make a pistol out 
of any double-barrel shotgun, a pistol every bit as effective in close 
combat as any weapon in the world today — this was true one 
hundred years ago, and it is true today. 2 

The thing we need to ask ourselves is not, Where did the guns 
come from? They came from home, where they have always been 
available, or they may have been bought in the street thanks to 
the drug culture — which deals in illegal weapons as readily as it 
deals in illegal drugs. But the question we need to ask is, What 
makes today's children bring those guns to school when their 
parents did not? And the answer to that question may be that the 
important ingredient, the vital, new, different ingredient in killing in 
modern combat and in killing in modern American society, is the 
systematic process of defeating the normal individual's age-old, 
psychological inhibition against violent, harmful activity toward 
one's own species. Are we taking the safety catch off of a nation, 
just as surely and easily as we would take the safety catch off of a 
gun, and with the same results? 

Between 1985 and 1991 the homicide rate for males fifteen to 
nineteen increased 154 percent. Despite the continued application 
of an ever-increasing quantity and quality of medical technology, 
homicide is the number-two cause of death among males ages 
fifteen to nineteen. Among black males it is number one. The 
AP wire article reporting this data had a headline announcing, 
"Homicide Rate Wiping Out Whole Generation of Teens." For 
once the press was not exaggerating. 

In Vietnam a systematic process of desensitization, conditioning, 
and training increased the individual firing rate from a World War 
II baseline of 15 to 20 percent to an all-time high of up to 95 
percent. Today a similar process of systematic desensitization, con- 
ditioning, and vicarious learning is unleashing an epidemic, a virus 
of violence in America. 

The same tools that more than quadrupled the firing rate in 
Vietnam are now in widespread use among our civilian population. 
Military personnel are just beginning to understand and accept 
what they have been doing to themselves and their men. If we 

A Virus of Violence 


Demands of Authority 


— Proximity of Authority — 
-•—Respect for Authority 

of Killer 

• Gang Leaders (influence resulting from 
the breakdown of the family) 

• Intensity of Leader's Support for Killing 
(resulting from media desensitization) 

Group Absolution 





-Physical Distance » 

• Provided by Guns 
— Emotional Distance » 

• Heterogeneous Society 

• Racism 

• Poverty 



of Victim 

♦ Identification- 
with Group 

— Proximity 

of Group 

• Media Desensitization 

• Violent Role Models in the Media 

• Conditioning via Video Games 

• Poverty 

• Daily Exposure to Criminal Acts 

• Drug Use 

• Gangs (influence resulting from breakdown of family) 

• Intensity of Gang Support for Killing 
(resulting from media desensitization to violence) 

• Available Strategy 
-provided by weapons 

• Relevance of Victim 
-gang membership 

• Killer's Payoff 
-status associated 

with killing 
-victim's possession of 
money/status symbols 

Killing-Enabling Factors in America 

have reservations about the military's use of these mechanisms to 
ensure the survival and success of our soldiers in combat, then how 
much more so should we be concerned about the indiscriminate 
application of the same processes on our nation's children? 

Chapter Two 

Desensitization and Pavlov's Dog at the Movies 

I yelled "kill, kill" 'til I was hoarse. We yelled it as we engaged 
in bayonet and hand-to-hand combat drills. And then we sang 
about it as we marched. "I want to be an airborne ranger ... I 
want to kill the Viet Cong." I had stopped hunting when I was 
sixteen. I had wounded a squirrel. It looked up at me with its big, 
soft brown eyes as I put it out of its misery. I cleaned my gun and 
have never taken it out since. In 1969 I was drafted and very 
uncertain about the war. I had nothing against the Viet Cong. But 
by the end of Basic Training, I was ready to kill them. 

— Jack, Vietnam veteran 

Classical Conditioning in the Military 

One of the most remarkable revelations in Watson's book War on 
the Mind is his report of conditioning techniques used by the U.S. 
government to train assassins. In 1975 Dr. Narut, a U.S. Navy 
psychiatrist with the rank of commander, told Watson about tech- 
niques he was developing for the U.S. government in which 
classical conditioning and social learning methodology were being 
used to permit military assassins to overcome their resistance to 
killing. The method used, according to Narut, was to expose 
the subjects to "symbolic modeling" involving "films specially 
designed to show people being killed or injured in violent ways. 

Desensitization and Pavlovs Dog 307 

By being acclimatized through these films, the men were supposed 
to eventually become able to disassociate their emotions from such 
a situation." 

Narut went on to say, "The men were taught to shoot but also 
given a special type of 'Clockwork Orange' training to quell any 
qualms they may have about killing. Men are shown a series of 
gruesome films, which get progressively more horrific. The trainee 
is forced to watch by having his head bolted in a clamp so he 
cannot turn away, and a special device keeps his eyelids open." 
In psychological terms, this step-by-step reduction of a resistance 
is a form of classical (Pavlovian) conditioning called systematic de- 

In Clockwork Orange such conditioning was used to develop an 
aversion to violence by administering a drug that caused revulsion 
while the violent films were shown, until the revulsion became 
associated with acts of violence. In Commander Narut's real-world 
training the nausea-creating drugs were left out, and those who 
were able to overcome their natural revulsion were rewarded, 
thereby obtaining the opposite effect of that depicted in Stanley 
Kubrick's movie. The U.S. government denies Commander Na- 
rut's claims, but Watson claims that he was able to obtain some 
outside corroboration from an individual who stated that Com- 
mander Narut had ordered violent films from him, and Narut's 
tale was subsequently published in the London Times. 

Remember that desensitization is a vital aspect of killing-em- 
powerment techniques used in modern combat-training programs. 
The experience related by Jack at the beginning of this section is 
a sample of the desensitization and glorification of killing that has 
increasingly been a part of combat orientation. In 1974, when I 
was in basic training, we sang many such chants. One that was 
only a little bit more extreme than the majority was a running chant 
(with the emphasis shouted each time the left foot hit the ground): 





308 Killing in America 

BURN, annnnn' 

EAT dead 




KILL . . . 

Our military no longer tolerates this kind of desensitization, but for 
decades it was a key mechanism for desensitizing and indoctrinating 
adolescent males into a cult of violence in basic training. 

Classical Conditioning at the Movies 

If we believe that Commander Narut's techniques might work, 
and if we are horrified that the U.S. government might even 
consider doing such a thing to our soldiers, then why do we permit 
the same process to occur to millions of children across the nation? 
For that is what we are doing when we allow increasingly more 
vivid depictions of suffering and violence to be shown as entertain- 
ment to our children. 

It begins innocently with cartoons and then goes on to the 
countless thousands of acts of violence depicted on TV as the child 
grows up and the scramble for ratings steadily raises the threshold 
of violence on TV. As children reach a certain age, they then 
begin to watch movies with a degree of violence sufficient to 
receive a PG-13 rating due to brief glimpses of spurting blood, a 
hacked-off limb, or bullet wounds. Then the parents, through 
neglect or conscious decision, begin to permit the child to watch 
movies rated R due to vivid depictions of knives penetrating and 
protruding from bodies, long shots of blood spurting from severed 
limbs, and bullets ripping into bodies and exploding out the back 
in showers of blood and brains. 

Finally, our society says that young adolescents, at the age of 
seventeen, can legally watch these R-rated movies (although most 
are well experienced with them by then), and at eighteen they 
can watch the movies rated even higher than R. These are films 
in which eye gouging is often the least of the offenses that are 
vividly depicted. And thus, at that malleable age of seventeen 

Desensitization and Pavlovs Dog 309 

and eighteen, the age at which armies have traditionally begun 
to indoctrinate the soldier into the business of killing, American 
youth, systematically desensitized from childhood, takes another 
step in the indoctrination into the cult of violence. 

Adolescents and adults saturate themselves in such gruesome 
and progressively more horrific "entertainment," whose antihe- 
roes — like Hannibal the Cannibal, Jason, and Freddy — are sick, 
unkillable, unquestionably evil, and criminally sociopathic. They 
have nothing in common with the exotic, esoteric, and misunder- 
stood Frankenstein and Wolf Man villains of an earlier generation 
of horror films. In the old horror stories and movies, very real but 
subconscious fears were symbolized by mythic but unreal monsters, 
such as Dracula, and then exorcised exotically, such as by a stake 
through the heart. In contemporary horror, terror is personified 
by characters who resemble our next-door neighbor, even our 
doctor. Importandy, Hannibal the Cannibal, Jason, and Freddy 
are not killed, much less exorcised; they return over and over again. 

Even in movies where the killer is not an obvious sociopath, 
the common formula is to validate violent acts of vengeance by 
beginning the movie with a vivid depiction of the villain per- 
forming horrible acts on some innocents. These victims are usually 
related in some way to the hero, thereby justifying the hero's 
subsequent (and vividly depicted) vigilante acts. 

Our society has found a powerful recipe for providing killing 
empowerment to an entire generation of Americans. Producers, 
directors, and actors are handsomely rewarded for creating the 
most violent, gruesome, and horrifying films imaginable, films in 
which the stabbing, shooting, abuse, and torture of innocent men, 
women, and children are depicted in intimate detail. Make these 
films entertaining as well as violent, and then simultaneously pro- 
vide the (usually) adolescent viewers with candy, soft drinks, group 
companionship, and the intimate physical contact of a boyfriend 
or girlfriend. Then understand that these adolescent viewers are 
learning to associate these rewards with what they are watching. 

Powerful group processes often work to humiliate and belittle 
viewers who close their eyes or avert their gaze during these 
gruesome scenes. Adolescent peer groups reward with respect and 

310 Killing in America 

admiration those who reflect Hollywood's standard of remaining 
hardened and undisturbed in the face of such violence. In effect 
many viewers have their heads bolted in a psychological clamp so 
they cannot turn away, and social pressure keeps their eyelids open. 

Discussing these movies and this process in psychology classes at 
West Point, I have repeatedly asked my students how the audience 
responds when the villain murders some innocent young victim 
in a particularly horrible way. And over and over again their answer 
was "The audience cheers." Society is in a state of denial as to 
the harmful nature of this, but in efficiency, quality, and scope, it 
makes the puny efforts of Clockwork Orange and the U.S. govern- 
ment pale by comparison. We are doing a better job of desensitizing 
and conditioning our citizens to kill than anything Commander 
Narut ever dreamed of. If we had a clear-cut objective of raising 
a generation of assassins and killers who are unrestrained by either 
authority or the nature of the victim, it is difficult to imagine how 
we could do a better job. 

In video stores the horror section repeatedly displays bare breasts 
(often with blood running down them), gaping eye sockets, and 
mutilated bodies. Movies rated X with tamer covers are generally 
not available in many video stores and, if they are, are in separate, 
adults-only rooms. But the horror videos are displayed for every 
child to see. Here breasts are taboo if they are on a live woman, 
but permissible on a mutilated corpse? 

When Mussolini and his mistress were publicly executed and 
hung upside down, the mistress's dress flopped over her head 
to display her legs and underwear. One woman in the crowd 
subsequently had the decency to walk up and tuck the corpse's 
dress between its legs in a show of respect for the dead woman: 
she may have deserved to die, but she did not deserve to be so 
degraded after death. 

Where did we lose this sense of propriety toward the dignity 
of death? How did we become so hardened? 

The answer to that question is that we, as a society, have become 
systematically desensitized to the pain and suffering of others. We 
may believe that tabloids and tabloid TV make us exceedingly 
conscious of the suffering of others as they spread the stories of 

Desensitization and Pavlovs Dog 311 

victims. But the reality is that they are desensitizing us and trivializ- 
ing these issues as each year they have to find increasingly more 
bizarre stories to satisfy their increasingly jaded audiences. 

We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the in- 
flicting of pain and suffering has become a source of entertainment: 
vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, 
and we are learning to like it. 

Chapter Three 

B. F. Skinner's Rats and 

Operant Conditioning at the Video Arcade 

When I went to boot camp and did individual combat training 
they said if you walk into an ambush what you want to do is just 
do a right face — you just turn right or left, whichever way the 
fire is coming from, and assault. I said, "Man, that's crazy. I'd never 
do anything like that. It's stupid." 

The first time we came under fire, on Hill 1044 in Operation 
Beauty Canyon in Laos, we did it automatically. Just like you look 
at your watch to see what time it is. We done a right face, assaulted 
the hill — a fortified position with concrete bunkers emplaced, 
machine guns, automatic weapons — and we took it. And we 
killed — I'd estimate probably thirty-five North Vietnamese sol- 
diers in the assault, and we only lost three killed. . . . 

But you know, what they teach you, it doesn't faze you until 
it comes down to the time to use it, but it's in the back of your 
head, like, What do you do when you come to a stop sign? It's 
in the back of your head, and you react automatically. 

— Vietnam veteran 

quoted in Gwynne Dyer, War 

B. F. Skinner's Rats 313 

Conditioning Killers in the Military 

On the training bases of the major armies of the world, nations 
struggle to turn teenagers into killers. The "struggle" for the mind 
of the soldier is a lopsided one: armies have had thousands of years 
to develop their craft, and their subjects have had fewer than two 
decades of life experience. It is a basically honest, age-old, reciprocal 
process, especially in today's all-volunteer U.S. Army. The soldier 
intuitively understands what he or she is getting into and generally 
tries to cooperate by "playing the game" and constraining his or 
her own individuality and adolescent enthusiasm, and the army 
systematically wields the resources and technology of a nation to 
empower and equip the soldier to kill and survive on the battlefield. 
In the armed forces of most modern armies this application of 
technology has reached new levels by integrating the innovations 
of operant conditioning into traditional training methods. 

Operant conditioning is a higher form of learning than classical 
conditioning. It was pioneered by B. F. Skinner and is usually 
associated with learning experiments on pigeons and rats. The 
traditional image of a rat in a Skinner box, learning to press a bar 
in order to get food pellets, comes from Skinner's research in 
this field. Skinner rejected the Freudian and humanist theories of 
personality development and held that all behavior is a result of 
past rewards and punishments. To B. F. Skinner the child is a 
tabula rasa, a "blank slate," who can be turned into anything 
provided sufficient control of the child's environment is instituted 
at an early enough age. 

Instead of firing at a bull's-eye target, the modern soldier fires 
at man-shaped silhouettes that pop up for brief periods of time 
inside a designated firing lane. The soldiers learn that they have 
only a brief second to engage the target, and if they do it properly 
their behavior is immediately reinforced when the target falls down. 
If he knocks down enough targets, the soldier gets a marksmanship 
badge and usually a three-day pass. After training on rifle ranges 
in this manner, an automatic, conditioned response called automa- 
ticity sets in, and the soldier then becomes conditioned to respond 
to the appropriate stimulus in the desired manner. This process 

314 Killing in America 

may seem simple, basic, and obvious, but there is evidence to 
indicate that it is one of the key ingredients in a methodology that 
has raised the firing rate from 15 to 20 percent in World War II 
to 90 to 95 percent in Vietnam. 

Conditioning at the Video Arcade 

In video arcades children stand slack jawed but intent behind 
machine guns and shoot at electronic targets that pop up on the 
video screen. When they pull the trigger the weapon rattles in 
their hand, shots ring out, and if they hit the "enemy" they are 
firing at, it drops to the ground, often with chunks of flesh flying 
in the air. 

The important distinction between the killing-enabling process 
that occurs in video arcades and that of the military is that the 
military's is focused on the enemy soldier, with particular emphasis 
on ensuring that the U.S. soldier acts only under authority. Yet 
even with these safeguards, the danger of future My Lai massacres 
among soldiers drawn from such a violent population must not 
be ignored, and, as we saw in the section "Killing and Atrocity," 
the U.S. armed forces are taking extensive measures to control, 
constrain, and channel the violence of their troops in future con- 
flicts. The video games that our children conduct their combat 
training on have no real sanction for firing at the wrong target. 

This is not an attack on all video games. Video games are an 
interactive medium. They demand and develop trial-and-error 
and systematic problem-solving skills, and they teach planning, 
mapping, and deferment of gratification. Watch children as they 
play video games and interact with other children in their neighbor- 
hood. To parents raised on a steady diet of movies and sitcoms, 
watching a child play Mario Brothers for hours on end may not 
be particularly gratifying, but that is just the point. As they play they 
solve problems and overcome instructions that are intentionally 
inadequate and vague. They exchange playing strategies, memorize 
routes, and make maps. They work long and hard to attain the 
gratification of finally winning a game. And there are no commer- 
cials: no enticements for sugar, no solicitation of violent toys, and 

B. F. Skinner's Rats 315 

no messages of social failure if they do not wear the right shoes 
or clothes. 

We might prefer to see children reading or getting exercise and 
interacting with the real real world by playing outside, but video 
games are definitely preferable to most television. But video games 
can also be superb at teaching violence — violence packaged in 
the same format that has more than quadrupled the firing rate of 
modern soldiers. 

When I speak of violence enabling I am not talking about video 
games in which the player defeats creatures by bopping them on 
the head. Nor am I talking about games where you maneuver 
swordsmen and archers to defeat monsters. On the borderline in 
violence enabling are games where you use a joystick to maneuver 
a gunsight around the screen to kill gangsters who pop up and 
fire at you. The kind of games that are very definitely enabling 
violence are the ones in which you actually hold a weapon in 
your hand and fire it at human-shaped targets on the screen. These 
kinds of games can be played on home video, but you usually see 
them in video arcades. 

There is a direct relationship between realism and degree of 
violence enabling, and the most realistic of these are games in 
which great bloody chunks fly off as you fire at the enemy. 

Another, very different type of game has a western motif, in 
which you stand before a huge video screen and fire a pistol at 
actual film footage of "outlaws" as they appear on the screen. This 
is identical to the shoot-no shoot training program designed by 
the FBI and used by police agencies around the nation to train 
and enable police officers in firing their weapons. 

The shoot-no shoot program was introduced nearly twenty 
years ago in response to the escalating violence in our society that 
was resulting in an increase in deaths among police officers who 
hesitated to shoot in an actual combat situation. And, of course, 
we recognize it as another form of operant conditioning that has 
been successful in saving the fives of both law-enforcement officers 
and innocent bystanders, since the officer faces severe sanctions if 
he fires in an inappropriate circumstance. Thus the shoot-no shoot 

316 Killing in America 

program has served successfully to both enable and constrain vio- 
lence among police officers. Its video arcade equivalent has no 
such sanctions to constrain violence. It only enables. 

The worst is yet to come. Just as movies have become succes- 
sively more realistic in their depiction of violence and death, so 
too have video games. We are now entering an era of virtual 
reality, in which you wear a helmet that has a video screen before 
your eyes. As you turn your head the screen changes just as though 
you were within the video world. You hold a gun in your hand 
and fire it at the enemies who pop up around you, or you hold 
a sword and hack and stab at the enemies around you. 

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, says, "This manipulation 
of reality may provide us with exciting games, entertainment, but 
it will substitute not a virtual reality, but a pseudo reality, so subdy 
deceptive as to raise the levels of public suspicion and disbelief 
beyond what any society can tolerate." This new "pseudo reality" 
will make it possible to replicate all the gore and violence of 
popular violent movies, except now you are the one who is the 
star, the killer, the slayer of thousands. 

Through operant conditioning B. F. Skinner held that he could 
turn any child into anything he wanted to. In Vietnam the U.S. 
armed forces demonstrated that Skinner was at least partially correct 
by successfully using operant conditioning to turn adolescents into 
the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. And 
America seems intent on using Skinner's methodology to turn us 
into an extraordinarily violent society. 

Chapter Four 

Social Learning and Role Models in the Media 

The basic training camp was designed to undermine all the past 
concepts and beliefs of the new recruit, to undermine his civilian 
values, to change his self-concept — subjugating him entirely to 
the military system. 

— Ben Shalit 

The Psychology of Conflict and Combat 

Classical (Pavlovian) conditioning can be done with earthworms, 
and operant (Skinnerian) conditioning can be conducted on rats 
and pigeons. But there is a third level oflearning that pretty much 
only primates and humans are capable of, and that is what is called 
social learning. 

This third level oflearning, in its most powerful form, revolves 
primarily around the observation and imitation of a role model. 
Unlike operant conditioning, in social learning it is not essential 
that the learner be directly reinforced in order for learning to take 
place. What is important in social learning is to understand the 
characteristics that can lead to the selection of a specific individual 
as a role model. 

The processes that make someone a desirable role model include: 

• Vicarious reinforcement. You see the role model being reinforced 
in a manner that you can experience vicariously. 

318 Killing in America 

• Similarity to the learner. You perceive that the role model has a 
key trait that makes him/her similar to you. 

• Social power. The role model has the power to reward (but does 
not necessarily do so). 

• Status envy. You envy the role model's receipt of rewards from 

An analysis of these processes can help us understand the role of 
the drill sergeant as a role model in violence enabling in military 
training, and it can help us understand why a new type of violent 
role model is so popular among America's youth. 

Violence, Role Models, and Drill Sergeants in Basic Training 

From this time on J will be your mother, your father, your sister, 
and your brother. I will be your best friend and your worst enemy. 
J will be there to wake you up in the morning, and J will be there 
to tuck you in at night. You will jump when I say "frog" and when 

I tell you to s your only question will be "What color." IS 


— Drill Sergeant G., Fort Ord, California, 1974 

Lives there a veteran who cannot close his eyes and vividly visualize 
his drill sergeant? Over the years a hundred bosses, teachers, profes- 
sors, instructors, sergeants, and officers have directed various aspects 
of my life, but none has had the impact that Drill Sergeant G. had 
on that cold morning in 1974. 

The armies of the world have long understood the role of social 
learning in developing aggression in their soldiers. In order to do 
this their venue has been basic training, and their instrument has 
been the drill sergeant. The drill sergeant is a role model. He is 
the ultimate role model. He is carefully selected, trained, and 
prepared to be a role model who will inculcate the soldierly values 
of aggression and obedience. He is also the reason that military 
service has always been a positive factor for young people from 
delinquent or disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Social Learning and Role Models 319 

He is invariably a decorated veteran. The glory and recognition 
bestowed on him are things that the trainees deeply envy and desire. 
Within the young soldiers' new environment the drill sergeant has 
enormous and pervasive authority, giving him social power. And 
the drill sergeant looks like his charges. He wears the uniform. 
He has the haircut. He obeys orders. He does the same things. 
But he does all of them well. 

The lesson that the drill sergeant teaches is that physical aggres- 
sion is the essence of manhood and that violence is an effective 
and desirable solution for the problems that the soldier will face 
on the battlefield. But it is very important to understand that the 
drill sergeant also teaches obedience. Throughout training the drill 
sergeant will not tolerate a single blow or a single shot executed 
without orders, and even to point an empty weapon in the wrong 
direction or to raise your fist at the wrong time merits the harshest 
punishment. No nation will tolerate soldiers who do not obey 
orders on the battlefield, and the failure to obey orders in combat 
is the surest route to defeat and destruction. 

This is a centuries-old, perhaps millennia-old, process that is 
essential to ensuring that our soldiers survive and obey in combat. 
In the Vietnam era the drill sergeant communicated a glorification 
of killing and violence of an intensity never before seen. We did 
it intentionally. We did it calculatingly. And as long as we have 
armies we must continue to provide some form of appropriate 
role model if we want our sons and daughters to survive on 
future battlefields. 

Role Models, the Movies, and a New Kind of Hero 

If such "manipulation of the minds of impressionable teenagers" 
is a necessary evil, accepted only reluctantly and with reser- 
vations for combat soldiers, how should we feel about its indis- 
criminate application to the civilian teenagers of this nation? For 
that is what we are doing through the role models being provided 
by the entertainment industry today. But while the drill sergeant 
teaches and models aggression in obedience to law and authority, 
the aggression taught by Hollywood's new role models is unre- 
strained by any obedience to law. And while the drill sergeant has 

320 Killing in America 

a profound one-time impact, the aggregate effect of a lifetime 
of media may very well be even greater than that of the drill ser- 

It has long been understood that movies can have a negative 
effect on a society through this role-modeling process. For exam- 
ple, the movie Birth of a Nation has been widely and plausibly 
credited with the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. But in general, 
throughout its golden age Hollywood intuitively understood its 
potential for doing harm and acted responsibly by providing posi- 
tive role models for society. In the war movies, westerns, and 
detective movies of the past, heroes only killed under the authority 
of the law. If not, they were punished. In the end the villain was 
never rewarded for his violence, and he always received justice 
for his crimes. The message was simple: No man is above the law, 
crime does not pay, and for violence to be acceptable it must be 
guided by the constraints of the law. The hero was rewarded for 
obeying the law and channeling his desire for vengeance through 
the authority of the law. The viewer identified with the hero 
and was vicariously reinforced whenever the hero was. And the 
audience members left the theater feeling good about themselves 
and sensing the existence of a just, lawful world. 

But today there is a new kind of hero in movies, a hero who 
operates outside the law. Vengeance is a much older, darker, more 
atavistic, and more primitive concept than law, and these new 
antiheroes are depicted as being motivated and rewarded for their 
obedience to the gods of vengeance rather than those of law. One 
of the fruits of this new cult of vengeance in American society 
can be seen in the Oklahoma City bombing, and if we look into 
the mirror provided by the television screen, the reflection we see 
is one of a nation regressing from a society of law to a society of 
violence, vigilantes, and vengeance. 

And if America has a police force that seems unable to constrain 
its violence, and a population that (having seen the videotape of 
Rodney King and the LAPD) has learned to fear its police forces, 
then the reason can be found in the entertainment industry. Look 
at the role models, look at the archetypes that police officers 
have grown up with. Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry became the 
archetype for a new generation of police officers who were not 

Social Learning and Role Models 321 

constrained by the law, and when Hollywood's new breed of cop 
was rewarded for placing vengeance above the law, the audience 
was also vicariously rewarded for this same behavior. 

Feeding their audience a steady stream of vicarious reinforce- 
ment through such vengeful, lawless role models, these movies 
prepare our society for the acceptance of a truly hideous and 
sociopathic brand of role model. The essence of this new brand 
of role model is a brutal and usually supernaturally empowered 
murderer who is depicted as graphically torturing and murdering 
innocent victims. 

In these movies there is usually no real attempt to paint the 
victims as being criminals; it is generally acceptable to justify their 
deaths as deserved due to the snobbery or social slights they have 
inflicted on others (as in the classic horror movie Carrie, which 
has spawned dozens more, cast from the same mold) or due to 
their membership in some social group or class held in scorn by 
the bulk of the youthful target audience. In these movies the 
viewers receive reinforcement by vicariously killing the people in 
their lives who have socially snubbed or otherwise "dissed" (shown 
disrespect to) them. And, in real life, the youth and the gangs of 
America escalate violence in our nation as they learn to take the 
law into their own hands and mete out "justice" to those who 
"diss" them. 

At a lower level are the vicarious role models who kill without 
even the tissue of any apparent justification whatsoever. Having 
been desensitized by the kinds of movies outlined above, a por- 
tion of our population is then willing to accept role models who 
kill entirely without reason. The vicarious reinforcement here 
is not even vengeance for supposed social slights, but simply slaugh- 
ter and suffering for its own sake and, ultimately, for the sake 
of power. 

Notice the sequence in this downward spiral of vicarious role 
models. We began with those who killed within the constraints 
of the law. Somewhere along the line we began to accept role 
models who "had" to go outside the law to kill criminals who 
we know "deserved to die," then vicarious role models who killed 
in retribution for adolescent social slights, and then role models 
who kill completely without provocation or purpose. 

322 Killing in America 

At every step of the way we have been vicariously reinforced 
by the fulfillment of our darkest fantasies. This new breed of role 
models also has social power: the power to do whatever they want 
in a society depicted as evil and deserving of punishment. These 
role models transcend the rules of society, which results in great 
"status" to be envied by a portion of society that has come to 
adore this new breed of celebrity. And of course we have observed 
a similarity to the learner in the role model's rage. A rage felt by 
most human beings toward the slights and perceived crimes in- 
flicted upon them by their society, but which is particularly intense 
in adolescence. 

The increase in divorces, teenage mothers, and single-parent 
families in our society has often been noted and lamented, but a 
little-noted side effect of this trend has been to make America's 
children even more susceptible to this new breed of violent role 
models. In the traditional nuclear family there is a stable father 
figure who serves as a role model for young boys. Boys who grow 
up without a stable male figure in their fives are desperately seeking 
a role model. Strong, powerful, high-status role models such as 
those offered in movies and on television fill the vacuum in their 
lives. We have taken away their fathers and replaced them with 
new role models whose successful response to every situation is 
violence. And then we wonder why our children have become 
ever more violent. 

Chapter Five 

The Resensitization of America 

Throughout this book we have observed the relevant factors in 
military training. Men are recruited at a psychologically malleable 
age. They are distanced from their enemy psychologically, taught 
to hate and dehumanize. They are given the threat of authority, 
the absolution and pressure of groups. Even then they are resistant 
and have trouble killing. They shoot in the air; they find nonviolent 
tasks to occupy them. And so they still need to be conditioned. 
The conditioning is astoundingly effective, but there is a psycho- 
logical price to pay. 

In this last section we have applied what we have learned about 
killing on the battlefield in order to gain an understanding of killing 
in our society. Violent movies are targeted at the young, both 
men and women, the same audience the military has determined 
to be most susceptible for its killing purposes. Violent video games 
hardwire young people for shooting at humans. The entertainment 
industry conditions the young in exactly the same way the military 
does. Civilian society apes the training and conditioning techniques 
of the military at its peril. 

Add to this the dissolution of the family. Children from all 
economic strata no longer have a censor, counsel, or role model 
at home. They turn to their peers as authority figures. In some 
cases they find a family in gangs. 

324 Killing in America 

And then there are factors that provide psychological distance 
in our society. American society is increasingly divided along lines 
of race, gender, and so on. It has become compartmentalized. 
People in ghettos rarely leave their own areas — the larger world, 
the larger country is foreign land. The reverse is true with middle 
and upper classes. They travel everywhere except for impoverished 
areas — which they avoid anxiously. It is quite easy to maintain 
this distance. They ride in their can; they live in the suburbs and 
eat in nice restaurants. The separation is not as strident as the 
soldier who learns to think of his enemy as an animal or refer to 
him as a "gook," but there is distance. 

The only connecting point in our society is the media. The 
media, which should act to bring us together, serves to pull us 
apart: conditioning and teaching violence, nurturing our darkest 
instincts, and feeding the nation with violent stereotypes that foster 
our deepest fears. 

We are most assuredly on the road to ruin, and we need desper- 
ately to find the road home from this dark and fearful place to 
which we have traveled. 

The Road to Ruin 

And in that state of nature, no arts; no letters; no society; and 
which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; 
and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. 

— Thomas Hobbes 

Some would claim that modern, ultraviolent movies and their 
video-game equivalents examined here serve as a form of sublima- 
tion that will make violence and war obsolete. "Sublimation" 
is a term coined by Sigmund Freud referring to the turning of 
unacceptable urges and desires toward something socially desirable: 
taking the dark, unacceptable drives of the id and diverting them 
toward the sublime. Thus someone with a desire to slice open 
bodies may become a surgeon, or someone with an unacceptable 
urge toward violence may channel it toward sports, the military, 
or law enforcement. But watching movies is not sublimation. 

The Resensitization of America 325 

The entertainment industry is not providing a socially acceptable 
channeling of energy. Indeed, very little energy is generally spent 
in the passive reception of television and movies. And this hardly 
qualifies as a socially acceptable or desirable channel for energies. 
Unless it has become socially desirable to kill outside the authority 
of the law, or to murder innocent victims — which, in the twisted 
world of the entertainment industry, it has. 

If violence in television and movies were a form of sublimation, 
and if it were at all effective, then per capita violence should be 
going down. Instead it has multiplied nearly seven times in the 
span of the same generation in which this supposed sublimation 
has become available. It is not sublimation, or even neutral enter- 
tainment. It is classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and 
social learning, all focused toward the violence enabling of an 
entire society. 

When our 1992 Olympic hockey team displayed a degree of 
lawlessness, violence, and aggression never before seen in such 
competitions, we should have begun to wonder. When the mother 
of one high school cheerleader was convicted of hiring a hit man 
to murder her daughter's competitor for the cheerleader squad, and 
when the "bodyguard" for one Olympic figure skater attempted to 
eliminate the competition by maiming an opponent, we should 
have begun to understand that this is a society that is increasingly 
conditioned to turn to violence as the answer to all of its difficulties. 

And the Road Home: The Resensitization of America 

Male power, male dominance, masculinity, male sexuality, male ag- 
gression are not biologically determined. They are conditioned. . . . 
What is conditioned can be deconditioned. Man can change. 

— Catherine Itzin 

Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties 

So what is the answer? Which is the road home from this dark 
and fearful place to which we have traveled? 

Perhaps it is time to begin the "resensitization" of America. 

When the framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote the Second 
Amendment, guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms, they 

32( > Killing in America 

never dreamed that the concept of "arms" could someday include 
weapons of mass destruction that can vaporize whole cities. In the 
same way, until late in this century, no one ever dreamed that the 
right to free speech could include mechanisms of mass conditioning 
and desensitization. During the 1930s our society began for the 
first time to consider the need to control access to high explosives, 
and today even the most rabid defender of Second Amendment 
rights would not argue for private ownership of rental trucks full 
of high explosives, artillery, nerve gas, or nuclear arms. In the 
same way, perhaps the time has come for society to consider the 
price being paid for the implications of technology on some First 
Amendment rights. 

There is no more need to constrain the print media than there 
is to control bowie knives, tomahawks, or flintlock rifles, but there 
might just be a justification for controlling the technology that 
goes beyond print media and flindocks. The more advanced the 
technology, the greater the need for control. In the realm of 
weapons technology that means controlling explosives, artillery, 
and machine guns, and it may mean that the time has come to 
consider controlling assault rifles or pistols. In the realm of media 
technology, that may mean that the time has come to consider 
controlling TV, movies, and video games. 

Technology has leapfrogged in a variety of ways that change 
the context of violence in our society. Today technology has 
enabled distribution of a much wider variety of entertainment: 
movies, television, videos, video games, multimedia and interactive 
television, specialized magazines, and the Internet. The result is 
that entertainment is now a private act. In many cases this is good, 
but in many other cases it has had the potential for developing, 
feeding, and sustaining individual pathologies. We have a two- 
hundred-year-old tradition of protecting the right to free speech 
and the right to bear arms. Obviously, though, our founding fathers 
did not have these factors (let alone operant conditioning!) in mind 
when they wrote the Constitution. 

Media critic Michael Medved believes that some form of censor- 
ship (either self-censorship or the formal, legal kind) is in the cards, 
and that this might not be so bad, pointing out that the age of 

The Resensitization of America 327 

censorship in Hollywood was also the age of greatest artistry, 
yielding movies such as Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. As 
Simon Jenkins put it in a London Times editorial: 

Censorship is external regulation and therefore professional anath- 
ema. Yet such sanction is the community's natural response to 
what it feels might threaten its stability, be it adulterated food, 
dangerous drugs, guns or films that incite social evils. Film-makers, 
like all artists, claim a license from such sanction. They are observers 
outside of society looking in. But the license is held on lease. It 
is not freehold. It can be withdrawn. 

But the road to resensitization is probably not through formal 
censorship. There may be a legitimate place for new laws and legal 
constraints in our future, but oppression of one sort can never 
truly be relieved by other forms of oppression, and in today's video 
society it would be difficult to completely squelch all manifestations 
of violence enabling. However, we may be able to find compro- 
mises that can put us back on the road toward becoming the kind 
of society that most of us want, while still respecting the rights of 
one another. What is needed is not censorship, at least not censor- 
ship in any legal or legislative sense. 

There is a sound argument for changing the way we view and 
apply First Amendment rights, but I do not advocate it. I do, 
however, believe that the time has come for our society to censure 
(not censor) those who exploit violence for profit. In A. M. Rosen- 
thal's words we must "turn entirely away from those ugly people, 
defeating them by refusing them tolerance or respectability." 

What we must realize is that our society is trapped in a pathologi- 
cal spiral with all vectors pulling inward toward a tighter and tighter 
cycle of violence and destruction. 

The prescription for resensitization is as complex and interactive 
as has been the path to our current dark state. Guns, drugs, poverty, 
gangs, war, racism, sexism, and the destruction of the nuclear 
family are just a few of the factors that can act to cheapen human 
life. The current debates over euthanasia, abortion, and the death 
penalty indicate that we are divided over the ethics of life and 
death. To greater or lesser degrees each of these factors helps to 

328 Killing in America 

pull us toward destruction, and any comprehensive war on crime 
needs to consider all of them. But these factors have always been 
there. The new factor that is at work today is the same factor that 
increased the firing rate from 15 to 20 percent in World War II 
to 90 to 95 percent in Vietnam. The new factor is desensitization 
and killing enabling in the media. 

Television programmers have always tried to claim the "best of 
two uncomfortably contradictory worlds," as Michael Medved 
puts it. It is really not new or profound to point out that television 
executives have for years claimed that they are not capable of 
influencing our actions or changing behavior, but for decades 
America's major corporations have paid them billions of dollars 
for a paltry few seconds or a minute to do just that. To sponsors, 
media executives claim that just a few well-placed seconds can 
control how America will spend its hard-earned money. But to 
Congress and other watchdog agencies they argue that they are 
not responsible for causing viewers to change the way they will 
respond to any emotionally charged, potentially violent circum- 
stance that they may subsequently find themselves in. This in 
spite of the fact that, as of 1994, there have been more than two 
hundred studies demonstrating the correlation between television 
and violence. 3 

This body of scientific evidence against the media is overwhelm- 
ing. In March 1994, Professor Elizabeth Newson, head of the 
child-development unit at Nottingham University, in England, 
released a report signed by twenty-five psychologists and pediatri- 
cians. They wrote: 

Many of us hold our liberal ideals of freedom of expression dear, 
but now begin to feel that we were naive in our failure to predict 
the extent of damaging material and its all-too-free availability to 
children. By restricting such material from home viewing, society 
must take on a necessary responsibility in protecting children from 
this, as from other forms of child abuse. 

By calling for legislation to limit the availability of "video nasties," 
Professor Newson and her colleagues raised a storm of controversy 
in Britain. They also became the latest in a series of scientists to 
publicly join the ever-swelling ranks of those who are convinced 

The Resensitization of America 329 

by the scientific research linking violence in the media to vio- 
lent crime. 

In the spring 1993 issue of The Public Interest, Dr. Brandon 
Canterwall, professor of epidemiology at the University of Wash- 
ington, summarized the overwhelming nature of this body of 
evidence. His report focused on the effect of television when it 
was introduced to rural, isolated communities in Canada and when 
English-language TV broadcasts were permitted in South Africa 
in 1975, having previously been banned by the Afrikaans-speaking 
government. In each case, violent crime among children in- 
creased spectacularly. 

Canterwall points out that aggressive impulses, like most human 
phenomena, are distributed along a bell-shaped curve, and the 
significant effect of any change will occur at the margins. He notes: 

It is an intrinsic effect of such "bell curve" distribution that small 
changes in the average imply major changes at the extremes. Thus, 
if an exposure to television causes 8 percent of the population to 
shift from below-average aggression to above-average aggression, 
it follows that the homicide rate will double. 

In statistical terms, an increase in the aggressive predisposition of 
8 percent of the population is very small. Anything less than 5 
percent is not even considered to be statistically significant. But 
in human terms, the impact of doubling the homicide rate is 
enormous. Canterwall concludes: 

The evidence indicates that if, hypothetically, television technology 
had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer 
homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 
700,000 fewer injurious assaults. Violent crime would be half what 
it is. 

The evidence is quite simply overwhelming. The American Psy- 
chological Association's commission on violence and youth con- 
cluded in 1993 that "there is absolutely no doubt that higher levels 
of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased 
acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive be- 

330 Killing in America 

Ultimately, in the face of all this evidence, the deglamorization 
and condemnation of violence in the media are inevitable. It will 
be done in simple self-defense as our society rises up against the 
enabling of the violent crimes that are destroying our lives, our 
cities, and our civilization. When it occurs this process will probably 
be similar to the deglamorization of drugs and tobacco that has 
occurred in recent years, and for much the same reasons. 

Throughout history nations, corporations, and individuals have 
used noble-sounding concepts such as states' rights, lebensraum, 
free-market economics, and First or Second Amendment rights to 
mask their actions, but ultimately what they are doing is for their 
own personal gain and the result — intentional or not — is killing 
innocent men, women, and children. They participate in a diffusion 
of responsibility by referring to themselves as "the tobacco indus- 
try" or "the entertainment industry," and we permit it, but they 
are ultimately individuals making individual moral decisions to 
participate in the destruction of their fellow citizens. 

The ever-ascending tide of violence in our society must be 
stopped. Each act of violence breeds ever-greater levels of violence, 
and at some point the genie can never be put back in the bottle. 
The study of killing in combat teaches us that soldiers who have 
had friends or relatives injured or killed in combat are much more 
likely to kill and commit war crimes. Each individual who is 
injured or killed by criminal violence becomes a focal point for 
further violence on the part of their friends and family. Every 
destructive act gnaws away at the restraint of other men. Each act 
of violence eats away at the fabric of our society like a cancer, 
spreading and reproducing itself in ever-expanding cycles of horror 
and destruction. The genie of violence cannot really ever be stuffed 
back into the bottle. It can only be cut off here and now, and 
then the slow process of healing and resensitization can begin. 

It can be done. It has been done in the past. As Richard Heckler 
observes, there is a precedent for limiting violence-enabling tech- 
nology. It started with the classical Greeks, who for four centuries 
refused to implement the bow and arrow even after being intro- 
duced to it in a most unpleasant way by Persian archers. 

In Giving Up the Gun, Noel Perrin tells how the Japanese banned 
firearms after their introduction by the Portuguese in the 1500s. 

The Resensitization of America 331 

The Japanese quickly recognized that the military use of gunpow- 
der threatened the very fabric of their society and culture, and 
they moved aggressively to defend their way of life. The feuding 
Japanese warlords destroyed all existing weapons and made the 
production or import of any new guns punishable by death. Three 
centuries later, when Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to 
open their ports, they did not even have the technology to make 
firearms. Similarly, the Chinese invented gunpowder but elected 
not to use it in warfare. 

But the most encouraging examples of restraining killing tech- 
nology have all occurred in this century. After the tragic experience 
of using poisonous gases in World War I the world has generally 
rejected their use ever since. The atmospheric nuclear test ban 
treaty continues after almost three decades, the ban on the deploy- 
ment of antisatellite weapons is still going strong after two decades, 
and the United States and the former USSR have been steadily 
reducing the quantity of nuclear weapons for over a decade. As 
we have de-escalated instruments of mass destruction, so too can 
we de-escalate instruments of mass desensitization. 

Heckler points out that there has been "an almost unnoticed 
series of precedents for reducing military technology on moral 
grounds," precedents that show the way for understanding that 
we do have a choice about how we think about war, about killing, 
and about the value of human life in our society. In recent yean 
we have exercised the choice to move ourselves from the brink 
of nuclear destruction. In the same way, our society can move 
away from the technology that enables killing. Education and 
understanding are the first step. The end result may be that we 
will come through these dark years as a healthier, more self- 
aware society. 

To fail to do this leaves us with only two possible results: to 
go the route of the Mongols and the Third Reich, or the route 
of Lebanon and Yugoslavia. No other result is possible if successive 
generations continue to grow up with greater and greater desensiti- 
zation to the suffering of their fellow human beings. We must put 
the safety catch back on our society. 

We have to understand, as we have never understood before, 
why it is that men fight and kill and, equally important, why it is 

332 Killing in America 

that they will not. Only on the basis of understanding human 
behavior can we hope to influence it. The essence of this book 
has been that there is a force within man that will cause men to 
rebel against killing even at the risk of their own lives. That 
force has existed in man throughout recorded history, and military 
history can be interpreted as a record of society's attempt to force 
its members to overcome their resistance in order to kill more 
effectively in battle. 

But that force for life, Freud's Eros, is balanced by the Thanatos, 
the death force. And we have seen how pervasive and consistent 
has been the battle between these two forces throughout history. 

We have learned how to enable the Thanatos. We know how 
to take the psychological safety catch off of human beings almost 
as easily as you would switch a weapon from "safe" to "fire." We 
must understand where and what that psychological safety catch 
is, how it works, and how to put it back on. That is the purpose 
of killology, and that has been the purpose of this book. 


Introduction: Killing and Science 

1 . I would like to note that some friends (such as the noted historian Bill Lind, 
author of the superb book Retroculture) disagree with this representation of 
Victorian sexual repression, but I have yet to meet a single individual who 
disagrees with the analysis of our modern repression outlined here, and that is 
the pertinent point. 

2. There is not even a name for the specific study of killing. "Necrology" 
would be the study of the dead, and "homicidology" would have undesired 
connotations of murder. Perhaps we should consider coining the simple and 
precise term "killology" for this study, just as "suicidology" and "sexology" 
are terms that have been recently created for the legitimate study of these 
precise fields. 

Section I: Killing and the Existence of Resistance 

1. There has been considerable controversy concerning the quality of Marshall's 
research in this area. Some modern writers (such as Harold Leinbaugh, author 
of The Men of Company K), are particularly vociferous in their belief that the 
firing rate in World War II was significandy higher than Marshall represented 
it to be. But we shall see that at every turn my research has uncovered information 
that would corroborate Marshall's basic thesis, if not his exact percentages. 
Paddy Griffith's studies of infantry regimental killing rates in Napoleonic and 
U.S. Civil War batdes; Ardant du Picq's surveys; the research of soldiers and 
scholars such as Colonel Dyer, Colonel (Dr.) Gabriel, Colonel (Dr.) Holmes, 
and General (Dr.) Kinnard; and the observations of World War I and World 
War II veterans like Colonel Mater and Lieutenant Roupell — all of these 
corroborate General Marshall's findings. 

Certainly this subject needs more research and study, but I cannot conceive 
of any motive for these researchers, writers, and veterans to misrepresent the 
truth. I can, however, understand and appreciate the very noble emotions that 
could cause men to be offended by anything that would seem to besmirch the 
honor of those infantrymen who have sacrificed so much in our nation's (or 
any nation's) past. 

The latest volley in this ongoing battle was on the side of Marshall. His 
grandson, John Douglas Marshall, in his book Reconciliation Road put forth 
one of the most interesting and convincing rebuttals. John Marshall was a 

334 Notes 

conscientious objector in the Vietnam War and was completely disowned by 
his grandfather. He had no cause to love his grandfather, but he concludes in 
his book that most of what S. L. A. Marshall wrote "still stands, while much 
of the way he lived deserves criticism." 

2. The universal distribution of automatic weapons is probably responsible for 
much of this large number of shots fired per kill. Much of this firing was also 
suppressive fire and reconnaissance by fire. And much of it was by crew-served 
weapons (e.g., squad machine guns, helicopter door gunners, and aircraft- 
mounted miniguns firing thousands of rounds per minute), which, as mentioned 
before, almost always fire. But even when these factors are taken into consider- 
ation, the fact that so much fire occurred and that so many individual soldiers 
were willing to fire indicate that something different and unusual was happening 
in Vietnam. This subject is addressed in detail later in this book, in the section 
entitled "Killing in Vietnam." 

3. This is an important concept. In both this section and in later sections we 
will observe the vital role of groups (including nonkillers) and leaders as we 
look at "An Anatomy of Killing." 

4. Marshall also observed that if a leader came close to an individual and ordered 
him to fire, then he would do so, but as soon as the obedience-demanding 
authority departed, the firing would stop. However, the focus in this section 
is upon the average soldier armed with a rifle or musket and his apparent 
unwillingness to kill in combat. The impact of obedience-demanding authority 
and the effect of group processes on crew-served weapons, i.e., machine guns, 
which almost always fire, and key weapons (i.e., flamethrowers and automatic 
rifles), which usually fire, are both addressed in "An Anatomy of Killing." 

5. I too have graduated from many a U.S. Army leadership school, including 
basic training, advanced individual training, the XVIII Airborne Corps NCO 
Academy, Officer Candidate School, the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger 
school, the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services 
Staff School, and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. 
Not at any time in any of these schools do I remember this problem being men- 

Section II: Killing and Combat Trauma 

1. The information in this section has been taken largely from Gabriel's No 
More Heroes, which in turn was taken largely from the Diagnostic and Statistical 
Manual of the American Psychiatric Association and from Military Psychiatry: A 
Comparative Perspective, an anthology that he edited. 

2. The cause of PTSD is associated primarily with the nature of the support 
structure the soldier receives upon returning to society from combat. This 
section is primarily concerned with the nature and etiology of psychiatric 
casualties occurring during combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a distincdy 

Notes 335 

different type of psychiatric illness that will be addressed in detail in the section 
of this study entitled "Killing in Vietnam." 

3. It is important to note here that, although the lack of battlefield psychiatric 
casualties among medical personnel has held true in all wars about which I have 
data, Vietnam was very different in that the incidence of post-traumatic stress 
disorder appears to have been higher among medical personnel. I believe that 
this was due to the unique nature of what happened after the veteran returned 
from that war, and we will look at this in greater detail in the section "Killing 
in Vietnam." 

4. Frankl (1959), Bettelheim (1960), and Davidson (1967) are but a few of the 
many who have studied the psychological impact of this environment. 

5. For example, Weinberg (1946), Weinstein (1947, 1973), and Spiegel (1973). 

6. This is an excerpt from World War I veteran James H. Knight-Adkin's "No 
Man's Land," a powerful poem that does a superb job of communicating some 
of the horror of the soldier's dilemma: 

No Man's Land is an eerie sight 

At early dawn in the pale gray light . . . 

And never a living soul walks there 

To taste the fresh of the morning air; 

Only some lumps of rotting clay, 

that were friends or foemen yesterday . . . 

But No Man's Land is a goblin sight 

When patrols crawl over at dead o' night; 

Boche or British, Belgian or French, 

You dice with death when you cross the trench. 

When the "rapid," like fireflies in the dark, 

Flits down the parapet spark by spark, 

And you drop for cover to keep your head 

With your face on the breast of the four months' dead. 

The man who ranges in No Man's Land 
Is dogged by shadows on either hand 
When the star-shell's flare, as it bursts o'erhead, 
Scares the gray rats that feed on the dead, 
And the bursting bomb or the bayonet-snatch 
May answer the click of your safety-catch, 
For the lone patrol, with his life in his hand, 
Is hunting for blood in No Man's Land. 

Section III: Killing and Physical Distance 

1. For an understanding of how it was possible for Nazis and Assyrians to kill 
at this "extreme" end of the spectrum, see Section V, "Killing and Atrocities." 

2. Quoted from an article by R. K. Brown. These are extracts from after-action 

336 Notes 

reports describing the activities of Sergeant First Class (retired) Adelbert F. 
Waldron who, during his tour of duty as a sniper using a starlight scope and a 
noise suppressor (silencer) on his match- (competition-) grade Ml 4 rifle, was 
credited with 113 confirmed kills and 10 blood trails in five months in Vietnam. 
Waldron's fame spread, and he was given the nom de guerre Daniel Boone. 
Apparently, the VC were also impressed with his skill and put a fifty-thousand- 
dollar price on his head. Twelve hours after Army Intelligence discovered that 
Waldron had been identified and a bounty offered for his scalp, he was on a 
plane out of Vietnam. 

3. This has been mentioned elsewhere, but it bears repeating that the universal 
distribution of automatic weapons in Vietnam is probably responsible for much 
of this large number of shots fired per kill. Much of this firing was also suppressive 
fire and reconnaissance by fire. And much of it was by crew-served weapons 
(e.g., squad machine guns, helicopter door gunners, and aircraft-mounted mini- 
guns firing thousands of rounds per minute), which, as mentioned before, almost 
always fire. But even when these factors are taken into consideration, the fact 
that so much fire occurred and that so many individual soldiers were willing to 
fire indicates that something different and unusual was happening in Vietnam. 
This subject is addressed in detail later in this book in the section "Killing 
in Vietnam." 

4. A detailed analysis of these stages of a kill can be found in the section entitled 
"The Killing Response Stages." 

5. Stewart concludes the article with this sentence. The object of his tale, the 
climax. The point of this lengthy article appears to be this line that communicates 
the extent of his empathy for his victim and gives him a little peace: "that hard 
look had left his eyes before he died." The message we can take away from 
this is that he cared deeply what this dying VC thought of him, and what the 
reader thinks of him. If we look for it, over and over again in these killing 
narratives we will find this underlying message of (1) the writer's empathy for 
his kill and (2) a deep concern for what the reader thinks of the writer. We will 
address these needs in much greater detail in the section "Killing in Vietnam." 

6. But the Greeks refused to use "unmanly" projectile weapons, and the uniquely 
designed javelins and pilums cast in volleys by Roman soldiers — combined 
with the Romans' superior training in thrusting the sword, their maneuverability 
on the battlefield, and their use of leaders — ultimately permitted the profes- 
sional Roman legions to defeat the citizen-soldiers of the Greek phalanx. 

7. Yet even with all their emphasis on stabbing wounds, it appears that many 
Roman soldiers still slashed and hacked at the enemy, for we read constantly 
of enemy soldiers who suffer multiple slash wounds as a result of their encounters 
with the Roman legions. In his Commentaries on the Gallic War, Caesar mentions 
how after a battle the enemy, "at length, worn out with wounds, . . . began 
to retreat." 

Notes 337 

8. It is interesting to note that the new U.S. Army M16 bayonet is a very 
wicked-looking, saw-backed device. 

9. Some would claim that writing of such esoteric killing techniques in a public 
forum is an inappropriate act, since they now become "thinkable." In some 
martial arts organizations the release of such "secret" or "high-level" techniques 
can result in disciplining and censure. This whole subject of modeling violence 
and making the unthinkable thinkable is addressed in the section "Killing in 
America." In actuality it must also be noted that the construction of the skull 
and eye socket make it difficult to get into the brain, and I believe that, in 
consideration of the potential audience, the benefit associated with using this 
example in this context far outweighs any potential harm. 

10. Permit me to caveat all of this just a little. Freud made similar observations 
as to the latent homosexuality of men who smoked large cigars, but as a cigar 
smoker himself Freud was quick to add that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." 
In the same way let me simply add, as a soldier and a gun owner, that sometimes 
a gun is . . . just a gun. 

Section IV: An Anatomy of Killing 

1. Helping a veteran in such a situation involves encouraging him to share his 
experience, confronting the word "murder," and discussing the Bible's or 
Torah's view on killing. 

Encouraging Him to Share This Experience with His Wife. In this case I suggested 
that he do this by asking her to read William Manchester's Goodbye, Darkness 
and then use a remarkably similar incident in that book as a point of departure 
to discuss his experience. (The need for the vet to share with his wife and the 
value of a book to serve as point of departure are recurring themes in this kind 
of counseling. Early drafts of this book have served just such a purpose on 
several occasions.) 

Encouraging Him to Confront His Use of the Word "Murder. " It was not murder, 
it was self-defense, and if it happened in the street tomorrow no charges would 
be pressed. His answer, as it is so often when the veteran represses and never 
discusses these situations, was "I never looked at it that way." (This is a common 
and repeated theme in such counseling.) 

Discussing What the Bible or the Torah Says about Killing. I encouraged him to 
study the matter further or discuss it with a clergyman of his faith. This is 
another common and important theme. There is a body of belief in America 
that it is not "good" to be a soldier. Much of this antimilitary bias is founded 
on the commandment "Thou shalt not kill," but within the realm of Christianity 
there is great disagreement on this matter, and it is not nearly that simple. For 
the sake of therapy among soldiers I have found that there is great value in 
presenting the other side of the theological debate about killing. 

338 Notes 

In Exodus, chapter 20, we find the Ten Commandments. Almost four hun- 
dred years ago the King James Version translated the Sixth Commandment as 
"Thou shalt not kill." When the translators wrote that, no one ever dreamed 
that "God's word" would be taken so out of context as to interpret this 
commandment to mean ihat the death penalty or killing on the battlefield is 
wrong. In this century, with only one exception, every major modern translation 
has translated this commandment as "Thou shall not murder." In chapter 21 
of the same book of the Bible (on the same page as the Ten Commandments 
in most Bibles) the death penalty is commanded when it says: "He that smiteth 
a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:12). The Hebrew 
word used in the original text of the Sixth Commandment refers to killing for 
your own personal gain; it has nothing to do with killing under authority. And 
this is not the first or the last time that the death penalty is commanded by 
God. In Genesis 9:6, when he got off the ark, Noah was commanded by God, 
"Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." 

King David was a "man after God's own heart," and he was also a man of 
war. The Bible praises David for killing Goliath in battle, and as a king he 
is praised: 

"Sol killed his thousands, but David has killed his tens of thousands." Killing 
in war, under authority, is presented as honorable and acceptable throughout 
the Bible. It was only when King David committed murder, in killing Uriah, 
that he got into trouble with God. The Old Testament is full of such righteous 
warrior leaders. David, Joshua, and Gideon are just a few of the hundreds of 
soldiers mentioned in the Old Testament who found favor in God's eyes for 
their labors on the battlefield. In Proverbs 6:17, the Bible says that God "hates 
. . . shedders of innocent blood [emphasis added]." But there is nothing but 
honor in the Bible for the soldier who kills in just combat. 

In the New Testament the story is the same. When the rich young man 
came to Jesus he was told that he must give away everything he had in order 
to follow Jesus. But in Matthew 8:10, when the Roman centurion came to 
him, Jesus said, "I have not found so great a faith, no, not in Israel." And in 
Acts, chapter 10, the first non-Jewish Christian was designated by God, and he 
was Cornelius ... a Roman centurion. God sent Peter to convert him, and it 
appears to have been a bit of a shock to Peter (and all the other disciples) that 
a non-Jew could be a Christian, but he never questioned that a soldier should 
have the honor of being the first one. Most of chapter 10 of the Book of Acts 
is devoted to Peter's sermon to the centurion Cornelius and his guidance as to 
how to be a Christian, but never once does Peter, or anyone else, anywhere in 
the Bible, state that it is incompatible to be a soldier and a Christian. Indeed, 
exactly the opposite is communicated over and over again. 

In Luke 22:36, just minutes before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion, 
Jesus commanded his disciples that "he that hath no sword, let him sell his 
garment, and buy one." They had three swords among them, and when the 

Notes 339 

soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his. But Jesus commanded him to put 
it away, saying, "He that lives by the sword shall die by the sword," meaning 
that if the sword is your law, you should die by the sword — the sword wielded 
by the agents of the government, and in Romans 13:4 Paul wrote that the 
government "beareth not the sword in vain." 

Thus there is a foundation for the argument that (1) "Thou shalt not kill" 
is a poor translation taken grossly out of context and (2) this has been responsible 
for doing great emotional harm to our veterans. The position oudined above 
has been, and continues to be, the one accepted by much of Catholic and 
Protestant Christianity for two millennia. This has been the philosophical justifi- 
cation for the church's support for fighting to free the slaves in the Civil War 
and fighting Germany and Japan in World War II. Today many churches hold 
that those who have died for our nation are exemplifying Jesus' love and Jesus' 
sacrifice for every one of us, for Jesus said, "Greater love has no man than this, 
that he give his life for his friends." 

2. An interview with a veteran who was a retired law-enforcement officer led 
me to realize that moral distance is the dominant factor that enables violence 
and the rationalization of violence among police forces. When I described the 
distance processes to him he pointed out that the establishment and maintenance 
of what I was calling moral distance are essential to the mental health of police 
officers, and on a good force it is the primary enabling process. If, on the other 
hand, the racial and ethnic hatred of cultural distance begins to set in, then 
there are problems, and a kind of moral rot can cut into the soul of the 
police force. 

3. It is interesting to observe how many of these "punishment" motivators 
were, in retrospect, less than legitimate. We really never did find out what 
caused the sinking of the Maine, and it might very well have been an accident. 
The Lushania was carrying war munitions, and the Germans did give us fair 
warning. And the Gulf of Tonkin Incident appears to have been almost com- 
pletely fabricated by President Johnson. In most of these cases, though, the 
politicians were motivated to use these incidents as a rally to excite the popular 
imagination in order to get involved in a war that they (the politicians) thought 
was morally legitimate. 

The great British statesman Benjamin Disraeli observed that the role of such 
"passion" issues would always be a key aspect of a democracy's entry into war. 
"If," said Disraeli, 

you establish a democracy, you must in due season reap the fruits of a 
democracy. . . . You will in due season have wars entered into from 
passion, and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to 
peace . . . which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your 
independence. You will, in due season, with a democracy find that your 
property is less valuable and that your freedom is less complete. 

340 Notes 

4. B. F. Skinner's operant conditioning theory and its application to killing will 
be looked at in greater detail in subsequent sections. His theory is basically that 
aspect of psychology which most people associate with the lab rat conditioned 
to press a bar for food. From Skinner's research has arisen a body of psychological 
thought and theory that is probably matched only by Freud's in its influence. 

5. Modern snipers are enabled by group processes, since they are almost always 
teamed with a spotter who provides mutual accountability and turns the sniper 
into a crew-served weapon. In addition, snipers are enabled by (1) the physical 
distance at which they fire, (2) the mechanical distance created by viewing the 
enemy through a scope, and (3) a temperament predisposed to the job, due to 
their careful selection by command and self-selection through their willingness 
to volunteer for the job. 

6. But of course the Rhodesians won all the battles and lost the war — as did 
the U.S. forces in Vietnam. I would submit that in both cases this is because 
the "enemy" was willing to absorb these horrendous losses, while the Americans 
and the Rhodesians were not. This is partially a reflection on the impact of 
moral distance, but it is also a matter of political will and the effectiveness of 
democracies versus totalitarian forms of government in times of war, and that 
is a factor that is generally outside the realm of consideration of this study. 

7. Like most personality disorders, this one is a continuum that contains many 
individuals who, while they would not meet the full diagnostic criteria, are on 
the borderline of antisocial personality disorder. The DSM-III-R tells us that 
some individuals "who have several features of the disorder [but not enough 
to be diagnosed with it] achieve political and economic success," and some 
successful combatants may also fit into this category. 

8. Terry Pratchett, in his book Witches Abroad, captured (in a metaphoric sense 
that Jung would have loved) the essence of the power of archetypal roles and 
their ability to entrap and warp lives: 

Stories exist independendy of their players. If you know that, the knowl- 
edge is power. 

Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing 
and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they 
have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived 
and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing 
through the darkness. 

And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the 
chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow 
in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And 
every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper. 

Pratchett calls this "the theory of narrative causality," and he is quite correct 
in noting that in its most extreme form the archetype, or the "story," can have 

Notes 341 

a dysfunctional influence on lives. "Stories don't care who takes part in them," 
says Pratchett. "All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. 
Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping 
lives in the service only of the story itself." 

This is especially true if (1) society invests and entraps an individual in a 
role — for example, the role of the hero who bathes in blood and gore while 
slaying the "dragon," and then (2) society cuts the story short and refuses to 
continue to play its part in the age-old drama/story of the returning warrior. 
Which is exactly what America did to her returning Vietnam veterans. But that 
is a story for a later chapter. 

9. Synthesizing various models and variables into a single paradigm may assist 
in providing a more detailed understanding of the soldier's response to killing 
circumstances on the battlefield. It may even be possible to develop an equation 
that can represent the total resistance involved in a specific killing circumstance. 

The variables represented in our equation include: 

• Probability of Personal Kill = total probability of execution of specific 
personal kill (This is an estimation of the total psychological leverage available 
to enable the execution of a specific personal kill in a specific circumstance.) 

• Demands of Authority = (intensity of demand for killing) X (legitimacy 
of obedience-demanding authority) X (proximity of obedience-demanding 
authority) X (respect for obedience-demanding authority) 

• Group Absolution = (intensity of support for killing) X (number in immedi- 
ate killing group) X (identification with killing group) X (proximity of 
killing group) 

• Total Distance from Victim = (physical distance from victim) X (cultural 
distance from victim) X (social distance from victim) X (moral distance from 
victim) X (mechanical distance from victim) 

• Target Attractiveness of Victim = (relevance of victim) X (relevance of 
available strategies) X (payoff in killer's gain + payoff in victim's loss) 

• Aggressive Predisposition of Killer = (training/conditioning of the killer) 
X (past experiences of the killer) X (individual temperament of killer) 

An equation that would permit us to tie in all of these factors and determine 
the resistance to a specific personal kill would look something like this: 

Probability of Personal Kill = 

(demands of authority) x (group absolution) x 

(total distance from victim) x 

(target attractiveness of victim) x 

(aggressive predisposition of killer) 

Let us say that the baseline for all of these factors is 1. A baseline of 1 works 
well, since in our multiplicative equation this number would be neutral; any 
factor under 1 would influence all other factors downward, and any factor over 

342 Notes 

1 would interact to influence all other factors upward. Since these processes 
are all multiplicative, an extraordinarily low factor in any one area (such as .01 
in aggressive predisposition) would have to be overcome through very high 
ratings in other factors. On the other hand, all other factors being equal, an 
extremely high rating in demands of authority (as seen in Milgram's studies) or 
a high aggressive predisposition (as would be likely if the killer had recendy 
had a buddy or a family member killed by the "enemy") would result in a high 
probability of a personal kill or even the unrestrained killing resulting in war 
crimes and other atrocities. 

Like most factor analyses, this one has probably not identified all of the factors 
that would influence this situation, but this model is certainly vastly more 
efFective than anything we have had before — since, to the best of my knowl- 
edge, none has ever existed before. Much work is needed to truly quantify 
these factors, but I would hypothesize that the threshold for a personal kill in 
wartime would be lower than that in peacetime. In a peacetime killing (murder) 
the threshold would probably be significandy higher, but the basic factors might 
still generally apply. Certainly this model would apply to gang killings and most 
random street violence, but the most common form of murder is that committed 
by acquaintances and family members upon one another, and I believe that the 
psychological mechanics of that kind of killing are quite different from what 
we are studying here. 

Section V: Killing and Atrocities 

1 . The only other time I have heard this process spoken of was by one particularly 
astute and unusually introspective British wing commander from the Gulf War. 
He noted that the RAF ground crews who supported his squadron felt like 
"impostors" because they had lived in a hotel, did not personally approach the 
enemy, and had not yet endured any Iraqi Scud missile attacks. However, they 
were only a few hundred meters from the U.S. National Guard unit that was 
subsequently hit by a Scud attack at considerable loss of life. "I hope," he said, 
"that you will not misunderstand if I tell you that my ground crews felt a little 
better about themselves when the Americans were hit." Again, instead of being 
diminished by friendly losses, they were strangely magnified and empowered 
by them. 

2. This is the only place in this entire book where I have used a quote from 
fiction. I do so in this instance because Conrad's Kurtz is an unparalleled 
representation of a man who is entrapped in the power of atrocity. This was 
superbly embellished and built upon in Marlon Brando's portrayal of Kurtz in 
Apocalypse Now. In that movie Kurtz's representation of how he was ensnared 
by the power of the Vietcong's use of atrocity represents a singularly powerful 
insight into the dark attraction of atrocity. 

Notes 343 

Section VI: The Killing Response Stages 

1. The "obedience versus sympathy" and "cultural versus biological norm" 
conflicts, which may be at the root of this killing trauma, have been explored 
by Eibl-Eibesfeldt. He delves deeply into this area and relates how soldiers in 
firing squads have been traditionally drugged with alcohol and issued the random 
blank bullet to permit some form of denial. Even so, they often later needed 
psychological counseling. Eibl-Eibesfeldt also tells of the atonement rituals tradi- 
tionally used in primitive tribes after killing the enemy. 

Eibl-Eibesfeldt does not, however, examine the need for, and quality of, 
ritual atonement methods for dealing with the trauma of a personal kill in 
modern warfare. These modern atonement processes, and how they failed in 
Vietnam, are an important part of what we must attempt to examine and 
understand. But first we must complete our dissection of the stages of a per- 
sonal kill. 

2. A fixation is sometimes defined as too much pain or pleasure associated with 
a specific stimuli. Classical examples of Freudian fixations include individuals 
who are fixated by the delight of nursing and the trauma of being weaned (oral 
fixation) or individuals who have become fixated by traumatic toilet training 
(anal fixation). 

3. Many veterans cut themselves off entirely from their emotions at the time 
of killing. They tell me (sincerely, I believe) that they feel now and felt then 
absolutely nothing. This is discussed elsewhere, but it is very important at this 
point to distinguish between these individuals who have denied and repressed 
their emotions and those who can truly enjoy killing without any resultant 

4. But all would defend his right to reflect openly on the war as he saw it, in 
a forum of his peers. It is very much to the credit of Soldier of Fortune, the 
magazine in which this article was published, that for twenty years this was 
essentially the only national forum in which Vietnam veterans could write such 
deeply emotional, open, and often unpopular reminiscences of their war. The 
editors added that "(?)" to the title of this article as their subtle means of 
distancing themselves from the author's statements, and let it go at that. The 
route of recovery from all combat trauma is through rationalization and accep- 
tance, and this lifelong self-exploration process that I have termed "rationaliza- 
tion and acceptance" is exacdy what occurs when veterans write, and read, 
these first-person narratives. I believe that writing and reading these narratives 
provide an extremely powerful form of therapy for these men. And I must 
deeply respect the courage and fortitude it took to both write and publish such 
accounts over the last twenty years. 

Note that here the "thrill of the kill" is placed before the "terrible bitterness 
of losing a friend," the latter being a trauma that is intentionally downplayed 
in relationship to the pleasure that the writer found in combat. It must be 

344 Notes 

emphasized that such a fixation does not make an individual a "bad" person. 
On the contrary, it was men like this, with a thirst for adventure and addiction 
to excitement, who pioneered our nation, and it is men such as this whom our 
country depends upon as the backbone of our military force in time of war. 
And, again, there are numerous sound studies that demonstrate that the returning 
veteran represents no greater threat to society than already existed in the society. 
As always, the objective must be not to judge, but simply to understand. 

Section VII: Killing in Vietnam 

1. The 1978 President's Commission on Mental Health tells us that approxi- 
mately 2.8 million Americans served in Southeast Asia. If we accept the Veterans 
Administration's conservative figures of 15 percent incidence of PTSD among 
Vietnam veterans, then more than 400,000 individuals in the United States 
suffer from PTSD. Independent estimates of the number of Vietnam veterans 
suffering from PTSD range from the Disabled American Veterans figure of 
500,000 to Harris and Associates 1980 estimate of 1.5 million. These figures 
would mean that somewhere between 18 and 54 percent of the 2.8 million 
military personnel who served in Vietnam are suffering from PTSD. 

2. This improvement is so astounding that a few modern observers have publicly 
questioned Marshall's World War II findings. But to do that means that you 
have to go on and question his Korean War findings and his Vietnam findings 
(which have been independently verified by Scott). To do so also refutes the 
findings of every other author who has looked deeply into this matter, including 
Holmes, Dyer, Keegan, and Griffith. It is possible these modern writers are 
partially motivated by a difficulty in believing that they and "their" soldiers 
exist to do something that is so offensive and horrible that they must be 
conditioned to do it. See the earlier section "Killing and the Existence of 
Resistance" for a more detailed discussion of this topic. 

3. There was too little close combat in the Gulf War to really make any 
conclusions of this sort. 

4. Stouffer, in "The American Soldier: Combat and Its Aftermath" (in Studies 
in Social Psychology in World War II, vol. 2), says that "Personal readjustment 
problems of varying degrees of intensity are disclosed by the [World War II] 
veterans in this study. But the typical veteran pictured in some quarters as a 
bitter, hardened individual does not emerge from this survey." Charles C. 
Moskos Jr., in The American Enlisted Man, looked at the Vietnam veteran and 
found that, compared with when they entered the army, these men returned 
to civilian life more mature and better suited to contribute to society. 

The situation, however, is not all that simple. Since Stouffer's and Moskos's 
studies, we have become aware of the impact of PTSD on Vietnam veterans. 
It would appear there is no evidence to indicate that, when compared with a 
nonveteran of the same age, the average Vietnam vet has any greater potential 
for committing murder, assaults, or robbery. What the epidemic of PTSD 

Notes 345 

among Vietnam vets has caused is a significant increase in suicides, drug use, 
alcoholism, and divorce. 

5. See Gabriel's No More Heroes for more information about these drugs and 
their physical and mental effects. Gabriel also spends a great deal of time assessing 
the potential impact of these drugs on killing and their potential effects on the 
trauma of killing. Those interested in a more detailed assessment of the impact 
of psychopharmacology in Vietnam should look at Military Psychiatry: A Compar- 
ative Perspective, which Gabriel edited and drew from extensively for No More 

6. No, the term is not necessarily an oxymoron. 

7. Fry and Stockton (1982), Keane and Fairbank (1983), Strech (1985), Lifton 
(1974), Brown (1984), Egendorf, Kadushin, Laufer, Rothbart, and Sloan (1981), 
and Levetman (1978) are just a few of the psychiatrists, military psychologists, 
Veterans Administration mental-health professionals, and sociologists who have 
identified lack of social support after returning from combat as a critical factor 
in the development of PTSD. 

8. Research is proceeding in this area, and we may someday be able to actually 
calibrate these numbers. In 1992, twelve cadets from the U.S. Military Academy 
at West Point spent their summer at the VA Medical Center in Boston. They 
were participating as part of their Individual Academic Development Program 
under my supervision, and their mission was to interview veterans about their 
combat experiences in order to begin to establish a database of information and 
interviews specifically about killing processes. The cadets involved then evalu- 
ated and assessed the data gathered in these summer interviews as a part of 
subsequent directed individual studies courses under my supervision. 

This database continues to grow and will, hopefully, expand further based 
upon input from veterans as a result of this book. The long-term objective is 
to be able to begin a detailed analysis of the processes associated with killing, 
to include the degree of importance and influence represented by the various 
factors in the killing-enabling model; the validity of the killing response stages; 
and the interaction between combat trauma (specifically killing experiences) 
and social support and their relationship to the resulting magnitude of post- 
traumatic stress response. Individuals who are willing to provide data for this 
study are invited to write the author care of the publisher. 

9. As mentioned before, Stouffer's and Moskos's studies indicate that returning 
veterans are generally better members of society. There is also no evidence to 
indicate that a Vietnam vet is more likely than a nonvet to commit crimes of 
violence. What the epidemic of PTSD among Vietnam vets has caused is a 
statistically significant increase in suicides, drug use, alcoholism, and divorce. 

I should note that most Vietnam vets have done quite well for themselves. 
There is, therefore, a backlash movement among some Vietnam veterans who 
are tired of the current label, who have had no difficulty themselves (perhaps 
due to repression and denial, or an unusually strong support structure upon 

346 Notes 

return combined with their own personal psychic strength in the face of the 
stresses that they have endured), and these individuals sometimes have little 
patience for the veterans who are having problems. 

In the face of this current conflict among veterans I would contribute the 
observation that the world is big enough, and people are complex enough, that 
probably both sides are correct. 

Section VIII: Killing in America 

1. There is some confusion about crime reporting in America, generally due 
to the fact that there are two crime reports produced each year by the U.S. 
government. One report is compiled by the FBI based on all crimes reported 
by law-enforcement agencies across the nation. In recent years this report has 
reflected a steady decrease in overall crime and a steady increase in violent crime, 
as reflected in the graph on page 300. 

In 1994 the FBI report reflected a 0.4 percent decrease in the per capita 
aggravated assault rate. This is the first decrease in this area in nearly a decade. 
But the same report also reflected a 2.2 percent increase in the per capita murder 
rate, and criminologists offer little hope for a long-term decrease in violent 
crime. "We haven't even begun to see the problem with teenagers that we 
will see in the next ten years," says Dr. Jack Levin, sociology and criminology 
professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "There will be a 23 percent 
increase in the teenage population over the next generation, and as a result, 
we're going to see the murder rate rise precipitously." 

The other annual crime report is based on a national survey of crime victims 
and reports its findings according to the number of crimes per household. In 
recent years this report has also reflected a steady increase in violent crime. The 
results of this survey have been questioned by some experts, and it may be that 
this report is underreporting crime as the nature and number of American 
"households" increase due to the breakdown of the nuclear family. The data 
in this report also have potential for error (probably in the direction of underre- 
porting), since they are based on a subjective assessment on the part of the 
increasingly jaded population being surveyed. Nevertheless, in 1994 this survey 
reflected a 5.6 percent increase in violent crime. 

The fact that the crime victim survey reflected a significant increase in violent 
crime in the same year that the FBI reported a small decrease supports a 
school of thought which holds that the FBI report has also been increasingly 
underreporting crime. This theory holds that law-enforcement agencies will 
become more and more swamped as the incidence of violent crime increases. 
As a result of this, both an exhausted police force and a jaded population (which 
is also increasingly fearful of criminal retribution) will raise the threshold of 
what is reported. There is evidence to indicate that in many high-crime areas 
attacks and assaults that would have received immediate attention thirty years 

Notes 347 

ago (for example, drive-by shootings in which no one is hit and beatings in 
which no one is killed) are routinely ignored today. 

As the inner cities continue to sink into lawlessness and anarchy it may well 
be that an increasing proportion of violent crimes will continue to go unreported 
and unnoticed. As a result of this, both crime reports will increasingly fail to 
reflect the full magnitude of the problem of violent crime in America. 

2. Another common red herring in this area involves the increasing "deadliness" 
of modern small arms. This is simply a myth. 

For example, the high-velocity, small-caliber (5.56 mm/. 223 caliber) ammu- 
nition used in most assault rifles today (e.g., the M16, AR-15, Mini-14, etc.) 
was designed to wound rather than kill. The theory is that wounding an enemy 
soldier is better than killing him because a wounded soldier eliminates three 
people: the wounded man and two others to evacuate him. These weapons do 
inflict great (wounding) trauma, but they are illegal for hunting deer in most 
states due to their ineffectiveness at quickly and effectively killing game. 

Similarly, since World War II the weapon that we associated with criminals 
was generally a .45 automatic, which was also the current military side arm. In 
recent years the criminal weapon of choice has reflected the military's transition 
to the 9 mm pistol, which has a smaller, faster round, which many experts 
argue is considerably less effective at killing. 

What these new smaller ammunitions (5.56 mm for rifle and 9 mm for 
pistol) do make possible is greater magazine capacity, and this has increased the 
effectiveness of weapons in one way, while decreasing it in another way. 

The point is that there has not been any significant increase in the effectiveness 
of the weapons available today. The shotgun is still the single most effective 
weapon for killing someone at close range, and it has been available and basically 
unchanged for more than one hundred years. Medical technology, computer 
technology, and entertainment technology have all advanced at quantum rates, 
but the technology of close-range killing has been essentially unchanged 
throughout the last century. 

3. But the situation is more complex. Correlation does not prove causation. 
To prove that TV causes violence you must conduct a controlled, double-blind 
experiment in which, if you are successful, you will cause people to commit 
murder. Clearly to perform such an experiment with human beings is unethical 
and largely impossible. This same situation is the foundation for the tobacco 
industry's continued argument that no one has ever "proven" that cigarettes 
"cause" cancer. 

There comes a point when, in spite of this type of reasoning, we must accept 
that cigarettes do cause cancer. Similarly, there comes a point at which we must 
accept the verdict of 217 correlation studies. 


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Santoli, A. 1985. To bear any burden. New York: E. P. Dutton. 

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Shalit, B. 1988. The psychology of conflict and combat. New York: Praeger Pub- 

Spiegel, H. X. 1973. Psychiatry with an infantry battalion in North Africa. In 
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Stellman, J. M., and S. Stellman. 1988. Post traumatic stress disorders among 
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Stouffer, S. A., et al. 1949. The American Soldier. 5 vols. Princeton, N.J.: 
Princeton University Press. 

Swank, R. L., and W. E. Marchand. 1946. Combat neuroses: development of 
combat exhaustion. Archives of Neurology and Psychology 55, 236-47. 

Waller, W. 1944. The veteran comes back. New York: Dryden Press. 

Watson, P. 1978. War on the mind: the military uses and abuses of psychology. New 
York: Basic Books. 

Wecter, D. 1944. When Johnny comes marching home. Cambridge, Mass.: River- 
side Press. 

Weinberg, S. K. 1946. The combat neuroses. American Journal of Sociology 
51, 465-78. 

Weinstein, E. A. 1973. The fifth U.S. Army Neuropsychiatry Center — "601 
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Vol. 2, Overseas theaters. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Of- 
fice, 127-42. 

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Psychiatry 10, 307-14. 

Personal Narratives from Soldier of Fortune Magazine 

Anderson, R. B. Nov. 1988. Parting shot: Vietnam was fun (?), 96. 

Banko, S. Oct. 1988. Sayonara Chery-San, 26. 

Barclay, G. Apr. 1984. Rhodesia's hand-picked professionals, 30. 

Bray, D. Aug. 1989. Prowling for POWs, 35,75. 

Doyle, E. Aug. 1983. Three battles, part 2: the war down South, 39. 

Dye, D. A. Sept. 1985. Chuck Cramer: IDF's master sniper, 60. 

Freeman, J. Summer 1976. Angola fiasco, 38. 

Horowitz, D.Jan. 1987. From Left to Right, 103. 

Howard, J. June 1979. SOF interviews Chris Dempster, 64. 

John, Dr. Nov. 1984. American in ARDE, 70. 

Kathman, M. Aug. 1983. Triangle tunnel rat, 44. 

McKenna, B. Oct. 1986. Combat weaponcraft, 16. 

McLean, D. Apr. 1988. Firestorm, 68. 

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352 Bibliography 

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The author is grateful for permission to include the following previously copy- 
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Dyer, G. War. Copyright © 1986 by Gwynne Dyer. Reprinted with permission 
of the author. 

Gabriel, R. A. No More Heroes: Madness and Psychiatry in War. Copyright © 
1987 by Richard A. Gabriel. Reprinted with permission of Hill and Wang, 
a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. 

Gray, J. G. The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. Copyright © 1959 by J. 
Glenn Gray; © renewed 1987 by Ursula A. Gray. Reprinted with permission 
of Ursula A. Gray. 

Griffith, P. Battle Tactics of the Civil War. Copyright © 1987 by Paddy Griffith. 
Reprinted with permission of the author. 

Grossman, D. A. "Moral Approach Only the Start: The Bottom Line in 
P.O.W. Treatment" in Army: foumal of the Association of the United States 
Army. Copyright © 1984 by the Association of the U.S. Army. Reprinted 
with permission of Army magazine. 

Heckler, R. S. In Search of the Warrior Spirit. Copyright © 1990, 1992 by 
Richard Strozzi Heckler. Reprinted with permission of North Atlantic 

Holmes, R. Acts of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle. Copyright © 1985 by 
Richard Holmes. Reprinted with permission of the author. 

Keegan, J. The Face of Battle. Copyright © 1976 by John Keegan. Reprinted 
with permission of Shiel Land Associates. 

Keegan, J., and R. Holmes. Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle. Copyright © 
1985 by John Keegan, Richard Holmes, and John Gau Productions. Re- 
printed with permission of Shiel Land Associates. 

Keillor, G. "Hog Slaughter," from "A Prairie Home Companion," produced 
by Minnesota Public Radio. Copyright © 1994 by Garrison Keillor. Re- 
printed with permission of the author. 

Moran, L. Anatomy of Courage. Copyright 1987, Constable & Company Ltd., 
London. Reprinted with permission of Constable Publishers, Constable and 
Company Limited, 3 The Lanchesters, 162 Fulham Palace Road, London 
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Bibliography 353 

Many of the quotes within this book are from personal interviews with the 
author. As mentioned in the acknowledgements, another major source for this 
book has been Soldier of Fortune magazine. In the environment of condemnation 
and accusation that existed immediately after the Vietnam War, SOF was the 
only national forum in which Vietnam veterans could attain some degree of 
closure by writing of their experiences in a sympathetic and nonjudgmental envi- 

I would ask those who would prejudge this material as "mindless machismo" 
to observe the true nature of these narratives. Many of these veterans tell of 
instances in which they did not kill the enemy even when they had every 
reason and justification to do so; and many tell of the shock and trauma associated 
with having killed, and the guilt and anguish which followed their experiences. 
I want to thank Colonel (retired) Alex McColl, at Soldier of Fortune, for his 
support and assistance in using these quotes (a detailed listing of which can be 
found in the bibliography) and I would like to thank all of the authors of these 
and every other work quoted in this book, and all of those whom I have had 
the priviledge to interview as a part of this study. This book — indeed this 
entirly new field of study, which I have termed killology — would not be 
possible were it not for those who have gone before us, the veterans and authors 
on whose shoulders this study stands. 


acceptance, of killing. See rationalization and 

acceptance, of killing 
accountability. See comrades, 

accountability to 
acute combat reaction, 36 
aggravated assault, 299-301 

absence of empathy and, 182-83 

distance, effect of, 97 

emotional withdrawal and, 160 

facing, 61-62, 76-78, 81 

genetic predisposition for, 181, 182 

in Nazi death camps, 78-79 

obedience and, 141-43 

patterns of, 6, 181 

resistance to engaging in, 54, 76-78 

response to, 5-16 

sex and, 134-37 

training for, 319. See also conditioning 
aggressive psychopaths. See psychopaths, 

Airborne, U.S. Army, 68 
air combat. See pilots 
Air Force, U.S., 30, 182 
Alexander, General, 85 
Alexander the Great, 12-13, 120, 128-29 
ambush patrols, 60-61, 196-99 
amnesia, 46 
Anderson, R. B., 236 
Andrade, D., 282 
Angell, Norman, 33 
animal response patterns, 5-6 
anonymity, effect of, 151-53 
anxiety states, 47 
Appel, J. W., 52 

Arab-Israeli War, 43 
archetypes, behavioral, 184, 340-41 
Arendt, Hannah, 207 

Army, U.S., 34, 35, 68, 82, 189, 253, 255. 
See also Army Rangers, U.S. 

Air Corps, 30, 181 

fear acceptable in, 53 

Special Forces, 68, 129, 257 
Army Life pamphlet, 53 
Army magazine, 34, 35 
Army Rangers, U.S., 67-68, 71 

knife-kill training, 129 

POW treatment, training in, 204 

in Somalia, 258 
Arnold, Tracy, 132 

artillery, 11, 27, 57-58, 59, 80, 97, 107-08 
assassins, 160, 306—07 
atomic bombs, 99, 102, 108, 331 
atrocities, 105, 263 

in Congo, 217-21 

defined, 194 

denial of, 211-13 

empowerment through, 205-10, 

enabling enemy through, 216, 221 

group absolution in, 224-25 

legitimizing of, 214 

power of, 203-15 

psychological trauma of committing, 

range of, 195-202 

refusal to participate in, 224, 225-26 

self-destructive nature of, 214-16, 221 

self-preservation in, 225, 226 

U.S. position on, 205 



in Vietnam War. See Vietnam War 
attrition warfare, 80—81 
authority. See obedience-demanding 

Babylon, destruction of, 102-04 
back stabbing, 127-29, 173 
Banko, Steve, 146, 173, 174, 196, 294 
Barbusse, Henri, 72 
Bardett, F. C, 69, 94 
Bashan, Gaby, 199 
basic training, 190, 317 
Battle of the Bulge, 204, 216 
bayoneting, 98, 120-26, 337 
in Nazi death camps, 104 
training in, 121, 123, 190 
Beebe, G. W., 52 
behavioral archetypes, 184, 340-41 
Belgrade, BatUe of, 10-11 
Berkun, Mitchell, 52, 53 
Bettelheim, B., 335 
Bible, 132, 337-39 
Binyon, Laurence, 62 
bomber crews, 59, 65, 79, 100-02, 104, 

bombing, mass, 55-58, 79, 80, 97, 99-102, 

104, 105, 106 
bombings, strategic, 207-08 

to comrades, 90, 149-50, 153, 210-11, 

269-70, 275-76 
to leaden, 144, 210-11 
through atrocities, 210-11, 214-15 
Borowski, Tadeusz, 102-04 
Bosnia, 211, 215 
Bray, D., 198, 238 
Brennan, Matt, 92 
Bridger, Barry, 110 
British Airborne Brigade, 82 
British army, class structure in, 168 
British Defense Operational Analysis 

Establishment, 16 
British Gurkha battalions, 126 
British Royal Air Force, 100 
Broadfoot, Barry, 70 
Brown, R. K., 335 
buck fever, 29, 231 

Bush, George, 242 

Calley, William, 104, 145, 190 
Cambodia, genocide in, 212 
cannons, 11, 154 
Canterwall, Brandon, 329 
Caputo, Phillip, 79 
Carrington, Charles, 200 
Catton, Bruce, 26 
censorship, 326—27 
character disorders, 48 
chariots, 153 
chase instinct, 127-29 

effect of movies/videos on, 308, 

314-16, 322 
killing of, 174-75, 266-67, 287 
China, atrocities in, 215 
Churchill, Winston, 166, 242 

as bombing victims. See bombing, mass 
close-range killing of, 199-202, 263, 
265-67, 287 
Civil War, U.S. 

attacks during flight, 127 
discarded weapons in, 21-25 
edged- weapons combat in, 123 
ineffective firing in, 11 
killing rates, 184, 333 
legal justification for, 166-67 
musket fire in, 10 
nonfirers in, 17—27 
social support for, 279-80 
civil wan, 25, 160, 166 
classical conditioning, 252-53, 255, 317 
in military, 306-08 
by movies and television, 302, 308-11 
Clausewitz, Carl von, 13, 71, 96, 128 
close-range assault, 80, 81 
close-range killing, 110, 114-37, 341-42. 
See also executions 
of civilians. See civilians, close-range 

killing of 
remorse for, 236—37 
Cold Harbor, Battle of, 25-27 
combat addiction, 234-36 
combat simulators, 177—78 



commandos, 129, 180 

compulsive states, 47 

comrades, accountability to, 149-51, 

152—53, 173, 233. See also bonding; 
peer pressure 
comrades, recent loss of, 179, 189, 330, 342 
concentration camps. See Nazi 

concentration camps 
condemnation, of Vietnam veterans, 250, 

276-80, 288-89, 290 
conditioning. See also drill, military 
for ambush or raid patrols, 61 
of assassins, 161, 306-07 
authority, role of, 260-61, 303, 314, 319 
effectiveness of, 257-59, 341 
for hand-to-hand combat, 132, 190 
to increase firing rate, 18, 35, 177-79, 

181, 189, 233 
to increase firing rates, 334 
post-traumatic stress disorder and, 

283-84, 291 
posturing, effect on, 13 
in Vietnam era, 178, 250, 252-55 
violence in U.S. and, 302-03, 
306-16, 325 
confusional states, 45-46 
Congo, atrocities in, 217-21 
Conrad, Joseph, 214, 342 
conscientious objectors, 1, 25, 29 
continuous combat, 43-45, 48, 84 
exhaustion and, 69 
fraternization with enemy during, 
Contras, 14, 224 
conversion hysteria, 46—47 
convulsive attacks, 46 
cooldown period, 271-73, 285-86, 293 
Cooper, Jeff, 207 
courage, 83-84, 224 
cowardice, 31, 84 
Cramer, Chuck, 254 
crew-served weapons, 153, 340. See also 

artillery; bomber crews 
Crimean War, 122, 144 
Crook, General, 12 
cult killings, 210, 211 

cultural distance, 158, 160-64, 188, 190, 

Custer's cavalry, 57 

darkness, effect of, 72, 169, 172 
Davidson, S., 335 
Dearden, Harold, 200 

empowerment through, 206 
instinct (Thanatos), 37, 332 
obsession with, 47 
democracies, 340 
Dengler, Dieter, 117 
denial, 137, 237, 279 

of atrocities, 211-13, 215 
cracks in veil of, 156-58 
in executions, 201 
by firing squads, 343 
by leaders, 148 
of mass murders, 209 
of midrange killing, 111-12 
as response to killing, 91-93 
social distance and, 168 
denial defense mechanisms, 255-56, 260, 261 
depression, 84-85, 149, 150 
desensitization, 161, 256, 307-08 

Vietnam era, 161, 251-52, 259-60, 304 
violence in U.S. and, 261, 304, 311, 328 
Detmer, Douglas, 278, 280 
Devereux, James, 147 
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental 
Disorders (DSM-III-R), 77, 84, 182, 
282, 340 
Dilulio.JohnJ., 301 
Dinter, E., 92, 149 
Disraeli, Benjamin, 339 
distance, effect of, 97-99, 188-89, 341 
American violence and, 303 
emotional distance, 98, 156-70, 303 
in executions, 201 
face of victim as factor in, 128 
physical distance. See physical distance, 
effect of 
divorce, effect of, 290, 291, 322, 345 
Douhet, Giulio, 55 
Doyle, Edward, 197 



Dresden, firebombing of, 101 
drill, military, 17-18, 20, 24, 27 
drill sergeants, 190, 317-19 
drug use 

American violence and, 303, 304 
by Vietnam veterans, 290, 345 
in Vietnam War, 269, 270-71, 345 
DSM-UI-R. See Diagnostic and Statistical 

Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 

Du Picq, Ardant, 9-10, 12, 21, 23, 107, 

125, 127, 128, 131, 143, 150, 151, 

171, 333 
Dupuy, Trevor, 161 
Dye, Dale, 255 
Dyer, Gwynne, 6, 15-16, 18, 30, 59, 61, 

79, 91, 100, 101, 102, 107-08, 110, 

150, 164, 180, 181, 184, 191, 199, 

209, 250, 251-52, 265, 302, 312, 

333, 344 

Early, John, 90 

edged- weapons range, 120—30 

ego, 37 

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1., 343 

1812, War of, 166 

elation, post-killing. See exhilaration, of 

elderly, return of memories to, 75 
elements, effect of. See weather, effect of 
emotional distance, effect of, 98, 156-70, 
303. See also psychological distance 
emotional exhaustion, 83-85, 94 
emotional hypertension, 47 
emotional response to killing. See killing 

response stages 
empathic distance, effect of, 97, 98 

absence of, 182-83 

aggression and, 160 

for soldiers, 105 

for victims, 105, 106, 237 

fraternization with, 158-60 

identification with, 110, 237, 238, 244 
enemy lines, patrols behind, 60—62 

epileptoid character reactions, 48 

Eros (life instinct), 37, 332 

euphoria, post-killing. See exhilaration, of 

evacuation syndrome, 48—49 
executions, 128, 191-92, 201-02 

defined, 201 

mass, 208-10 

of prisoners, 201, 209, 216 

refusal to participate in, 224, 225-26 

resistance to killing and, 209 

of surrendering soldiers, 199-202 

combat, 44, 51, 54, 67-73, 94 

emotional, 83-85, 94 

in Nazi death camps, 78 

in training, 67—68 

Well of Fortitude and, 83-86 
exhilaration, of killing, 111-12, 115, 231, 

234-36, 241, 242, 243-45 
expectancy of return to combat, 49, 269 

Falklands War, 13, 126, 136, 178, 256, 

257-58, 273, 293 
families, dissolution of, 322, 323 
fatigue cases, 45 
fear, 30, 51-66 

of atrocities, 207 

by civilian victims, 54—57, 65 

of death and injury, 52-54 

of facing aggression, 76-78 

fortitude to face, 83 

of medical personnel, 62—64 

of naval personnel, 58—59, 65 

of not supporting comrades, 53, 90 

of officers, 64-65 

patrols behind enemy lines and, 
60-62, 65 

of prisoners of war, 57—58, 65 
fearlessness, 84 
Fergusson, General, 94 
fighter pilots. See pilots 
fight-or-flight dichotomy, 5-9, 21, 69, 

71, 94 
firing, ineffective, 9-15. See also nonfirers 



firing rates. See also hit rates, of soldiers; 
kill rates 

Korean War. See Korean War 

training to increase, 35, 177-78, 189, 

Vietnam War. See Vietnam War 

World War II. See World War II 
firing squads, 191-92, 224, 225, 343 
fixation, 343 

on killing, 233, 234-36, 344 

on not killing, 233 
flight, 5-9, 21, 57 

back stabbing during, 127-29, 173 

from bayonets, 122, 125-27 

exhaustion and, 69, 71, 94 
food deprivation, 69, 72, 94 
forebrain, 8 
fortitude, 51, 83-86 

depression and, 84-85 

individuals and, 83-84 

replenishment of, 85 

units, depletion in, 85-86 
forward treatment, 49, 269 
Foster, John, 237 
4-F, classification as, 43 
Fowler, Bob, 179 
Frank, Jerome, 25 
Frankl, Victor, 78, 335 
fraternization with enemy, 158-60 
Frederick the Great, 17 
Freeman, John Barry, 146 
French Dahomey expedition, 175 
Freud, Sigmund, 31, 32, 37, 142, 324, 337 
Fromm, Erich, 160 
Fussell, Paul, 80, 104 

Gabriel, Richard, 12, 21, 30, 41, 43, 45, 47, 
48, 49, 57-58, 94, 149, 272, 276-77, 
333, 334, 345 

gain through illness theory, 56-57, 59, 61 

gang leaders, 145, 210, 303 

gangs, behavior of, 6-7, 211, 303, 321, 342 

Ganzer syndrome, 45—46 

gas, use of, 95, 331 

Gavin, James, 174 

Geneva conventions, 203, 204, 263 

Gettysburg, Battle of, 21-22, 24, 25 

GI Bill, 287 

Goodwin, Jim, 268, 276, 286 

Graham, Douglas, 12 

Grant, Robert, 63 

Grant, Ulysses S., 25 

Graves, Jim, 208 

Gray, J. Glenn, 17, 33, 38, 96, 97, 105, 107, 

137, 194, 223, 225, 227 
Greek military forces, 145-46 
Greene, Bob, 276, 278, 279 
Grenada conflict, 273 
Griffith, Paddy, 7, 10, 20, 21, 24, 118, 126, 

127, 184, 333, 344 
group, role of, 149-51, 263-64, 268-70, 

293, 334, 340. See also peer pressure 
group absolution, 108, 109, 110, 149-55, 
187-88, 209, 341. See also 
responsibility, diffusion of 

anonymity and, 151-53 

in atrocities, 224-25 
guerrilla warfare, 163, 194, 196-99 
guilt, 51, 53, 54, 87-89, 111, 112, 115, 231, 
235, 236-37, 289, 343 

ability to kill without, 180 

for atrocities, 223 

for comrades' deaths, 75 

condemnation and, 279 

for enemy deaths, 75 

exhilaration and, 243-45 

fortitude to face, 83 

of leaders, 90-91, 147-48 

of mass murders, 209 

murder-suicides, 241 

of nations, 242 

of nonkillers, 89-91, 260 

psychologists' inadequate response to, 
96, 293 
Gulf War, 169, 242, 273, 293, 342, 344 
gunpowder, 9, 154 
guns. See also specific guns, e.g., muskets 

role in American violence, 303-04, 347 

sex-aggression linkage, 135 

Hadley, Arthur, 271 

hallucinations, 67—68, 71 

Hamburg, bombing of, 100-01, 104-05 

hand-grenade killing, 112-13 



hand-to-hand combat, 98, 131-33, 337 

Harris, Bob, 68 

Hartmann, Erich, 181-82 

Harvey, J. Douglas, 104 

hate, 51, 54, 80-81, 126. See also Wind 
of Hate 
in daily lives, 76—78 
fortitude to face, 82, 83 
in Nazi death camps, 78-79 

Hathcock, Carlos, 254 

hearing, sense of, 74 

Heckler, Richard, 5, 100, 137, 184, 241, 
299, 330, 331 

Heinlein, Robert, 3 

helmets, 174 

heroism, 83 

Hiroshima, bombing of, 102, 105, 108 

Hitler, Adolf, 161 

hit rates, of soldiers, 10-12. See also firing 
rates; kill rates 
Civil War, 19, 24-25, 25-27 

Hobbes, Thomas, 324 

Holmes, Richard, 10, 11-12, 38, 71, 75, 
84, 87, 88, 94-95, 108, 111, 112, 
113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 123, 125, 
130, 136, 160, 165, 169, 170, 175, 
178, 186, 195, 199-200, 223, 232, 
235, 252, 256, 258, 282, 333, 344 

homelessness, of Vietnam veterans, 290 

honors, value of, 91, 263, 264 

Horowitz, David, 212 

horror, of combat, 31, 51, 54, 74-75, 83, 
94-95, 290 

hostile intent, in war, 105-06 

hostility. See aggression 

hypertension, emotional, 47 

hysteria, 46-47, 47 

id, 37 

illness, gain through. See gain through 

illness theory 
imprisonment rates, American, 299-301 
ineffective firing, 9—15 
intent, in war, 105-06 
intentional miss, 9—15 
Israeli military forces, 43, 52, 175, 273 
Itrin, Catherine, 325 

Japan, treatment of Chinese prisoners by, 

Jenkins, Simon, 327 
John, Dr., 15 
Jordan, Bill, 256 
Jung, Carl, 184 
Junger, Ernst, 200 

karate, 131-32, 337 

Kathman, Michael, 2, 155 

Keegan, John, 10, 87, 88, 113, 114, 115, 

118, 122, 130,223, 344 
Keen, Sam, 12 
Keenan, George, 83 
Kent, J. A., 234 

empowerment by, 208-10 

murder-suicides, 241-43 

obsession with, 233, 234—36 

societal fascination with, 3 
killing, burden of, 87-93, 95 
killing, enabling of, 187 

American violence and, 303-05 

conditioning, effect of. See conditioning 

distance as factor in. See distance, effect of 

groups, effect of, 149—55 

leadership, effect of, 143-46 

in media, 328, 331 

peer pressure effect on. See peer pressure 

recent loss, effect of, 179, 189 

target attractiveness, model of, 171, 189 
killing, in combat, 2, 3-4, 30-31, 32-34, 66 

distance, effect of. See distance, effect of 

means and opportunity, 171—73, 189 

model of, 341-42 

motive for, 171, 173-76, 189 

murder distinguished from, 195 

of noble enemy, 195—96 

predisposition to, 124, 176-85, 187, 
189, 340, 341, 342 

to preserve freedom, 226—27 

social stigma of enjoying, 236 

stages of emotional response to, 111-12 
killing, resistance to, 1-4, 29-30, 36, 37-39, 
59-60, 87, 334 

American violence and, 304 

bayoneting, 122, 123 



killing, resistance to (continued) 

in Civil War, 22, 24, 25, 27 

at close range, 118-19, 131, 132-33 

in executions, 209 

factors affecting, 186-92 

increase at 50% casualty point, 149 

society's need to overcome, 226-27 

training to overcome, 250-61 

in treatment of surrendering soldiers, 200 
killing response stages, 111-12, 231-45, 

actual kill, 231, 233, 343 

concern, 231, 232-33 

exhilaration. See exhilaration, of killing 

murder-suicides, 241—43 

of nonkillers, 244 

rationalization/acceptance. See 

rationalization and acceptance, of 

remorse, 231, 235, 236-37, 241, 243 
kill rates, 10-12, 333-34 

Rhodesia, 178-79 

Vietnam War, 254, 334, 336 

World War II, 30, 110, 161-62, 184-85 
Kinnard, General, 333 
knife range, 129-30 
Knight-Adkin, James H., 94, 335 
Koch, Traute, 101 
Korean War, 280 

exhaustion in, 69 

firing rate, 35, 181,251, 344 

posturing in, 8 

rear, attack from, 81 
Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, 231 

law-enforcement agencies, 320, 339 

shoot-no shoot program, 257, 260, 315 

training of, 256 
Lawrence, T. E., 195-96 
leaden, 334 

in atrocities, 224 

bonding to, 144, 210-11 

denial by, 148, 168 

fears of, 64-65 

fortitude replenished by, 85 

guilt of, 90-91, 147-48 

honors for, 91 

killing of, 174 

motivation of troops by, 90, 143—46, 
168, 334 
Lee, Robert E., 26 
legal affirmation, 165-67 
Leinbaugh, Harold, 333 
Leonhard, Robert, 80 
Levin, Jack, 346 
life instinct (Eros), 37, 332 
Lind, William, 80, 333 
long-range killing, 108-10 
Lord, F. A., 21 
Lorenz, Konrad, 6, 151 
Lost Battalion of World War I, 148 

MacArthur, Douglas, 69 

machine-gun crews, 18, 108, 153 

machine guns, 11, 104, 154 

Majdalany, Fred, 126 

Manchester, William, 75, 87-88, 115-16, 

179, 337 
maneuver warfare, 80 
Marchand, W. E., 43-44, 61, 180, 181, 184, 

189, 235 
Marcus Aurelius, 38 
Marin, Peter, 35-36, 91, 96 
Marine Corps, U.S., 82, 147, 253 
Marks, T. P., 200 
Marsh, Peter, 6 

Marshall, John Douglas, 333—34 
Marshall, S. L. A., 1, 3, 15-16, 20, 29-30, 

33,35, 118, 139, 144, 150, 181, 

184-85, 189, 251, 333-34, 344 
Master, John, 18 

Mater, Milton, 27-28, 34-35, 333 
Mauldin, Bill, 69, 147 
Mau Mau Uprising, 162 
maximum-range killing, 107-08 
Mclntyre, Benjamin, 11 
McKenna, Bob, 121 
means of killing, 171-73, 189 
mechanical distance, 108, 109, 158, 160, 

169-70, 189, 340 
medals. See honors, value of 
media. See also movies, violence in; 

television, violence in; video games, 

violence in 



sex-aggression linkage, 135 
violence in, 34, 88, 324-30 
medical personnel, 62-64, 335 
medical technology, 301, 304 
Medved, Michael, 326, 328 
memorials. See monuments, role of 
memory, effect of, 75, 95-96 
mentally ill. See psychiatric casualties 
mercenaries, 145, 180, 224 
Metelmann, Henry, 158-59 
midbrain, 8, 9 

midrange killing, 110-12, 118 
Milgram, Stanley, 141-43, 144, 187-89, 

Military Academy, U.S., 82 
military history, role of, 33-34 
miss, intentional, 9—15 
missile crews, 108 
mock firing, 21—25 
Moluccan train siege, 159 
Montgomery, Field Marshal, 85—86 
monuments, role of, 264, 274-75. See also 

Vietnam Veterans Memorial 
moral distance, 99, 158, 160, 164-67, 189, 

209, 339-40 
moral framework 

of conditioning, 292—93 

for killing, 180, 196-202, 226-27, 

prisoners, treatment of, 203-04 
moral pain. See guilt 
Moran, Lord, 58, 63, 72, 83, 84, 85, 86, 

125, 205, 234, 276 
Morris, Jim, 201 

Moskos, Charles C, Jr., 344, 345 
motive, for killing, 171, 173-76, 189 
movies, violence in, 34, 95, 261, 302, 

classical conditioning, 308—11 

role models, 319-22 
murder, 174, 195, 337, 342 

in America, 299-301, 304 

mass, 208-10 

medical technology and, 301, 304 

of prisoners and civilians, 199-205 
murder-suicides, 241-43 
Murphy, Audie, 155 

Murry, Simon, 72, 94 
muskets, 9, 10, 11, 18-19, 20, 21-25 
My Lai incident, 104, 136, 145, 163, 187, 
190-91, 314 

Nagasaki, bombing of, 108 

name-calling, 161, 252 

Napoleon, 17, 67, 70, 154 

Napoleonic Wars, 8, 9, 10, 122, 184, 333 

Narut, Dr., 306-07 

natural soldiers, 61, 180—85 

naval personnel 

fear of, 58-59 

killing by, 107-08 

psychiatric casualties, 58—59 

resistance to killing by, 59 
Navy, U.S., 68, 160 

Nazi concentration camps, 102-05, 106, 

denial of, 211-12 

hate in, 78-79 
Nazis, 161-62 

atrocities, 195, 206, 208-09 

war against Russia, 214 
New Guinea tribes, 12 
Newson, Elizabeth, 328 
nightmares, 47 

night-vision devices, 169, 172 
noble enemy, killing of, 195—96 
Nock, Arthur, 12 

as posturing, 8-9 

trauma caused by, 112—13, 116 
noncombatants, killing of, 174-76, 194 
nonfirers, 15-16, 29 

in Falklands War, 178, 258 

in U.S. Civil War, 17-27 

in Vietnam War, 250 

in World War I, 27-28 

in World War II, 3-4 
nonkillers, 62-64, 233 

at close range, 118—19 

group influence and, 155 

guilt of, 89-91 

at midrange, 118 

post-traumatic stress disorder and, 



nonkillers (continued) 

response to killing by, 244 

who are prepared to kill, 259-60 

Norris, W., 46 

obedience-demanding authority, 141-48, 
182, 187, 209, 295, 334, 341, 342 
in atrocities, 221, 224-26 
training to accept, 260-61, 319 
video games and, 303, 314 

O'Brien, Tim, 190 

obsessions, 47-48, 233, 234-36 

officers. See leaders 

older comrades, role of, 263, 265 

Ooley, Robert, 91 

operant conditioning, 177, 252-53, 255, 
302, 313-16, 317, 340 

opportunity to kill, 171-73, 189 

oppressed peoples, disloyalty of, 205 

Palmer, Dave, 248 

Panama invasion, 13, 240, 257-58, 273 

parades, role of, 264, 274, 276, 280, 286, 293 

paranoid trends, 48 

parasympathetic nervous system, 70 

paratroopers, 68, 206 

Pastora, Eden, 14 

patrols behind enemy lines, 60-62 

Pavlov, I. P., 252-53, 255 

Pavlovian conditioning. See classical 

peer pressure, 27, 30, 89-90, 150, 224-26 

Perrin, Noel, 330 

Perry, Ted, 291 

personal kills. See close-range killing 

phalanx, 146, 153-54 

physical danger, pursuit of, 76 

physical distance, effect of, 97-137, 187, 
188, 340 
close-range killing, 110, 114-37 
edged- weapons range, 120-30 
hand-grenade range, 112-13 
hand-to-hand-combat range, 131-33 
long-range killing, 108-10 
maximum-range killing, 107-08 
midrange killing, 110-12 
sexual range, 134-37 

physical revulsion, 115, 236, 241, 295 
physiological exhaustion, 69-71 
piercing, of enemy's body, 120-21 
pikes, use of, 120, 154 

combat addiction of, 234, 235 

killing by, 30, 59-60, 79, 107, 110, 
181-82, 184 
police. See law-enforcement agencies 
political will, for war, 340 
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 77, 

intensity of trauma and, 283, 285 

killing and, 282-84 

manifestations of, 282 

medical personnel, 335 

of nonkillers, 284-85 

social support and, 283, 285, 287, 289, 
334-35, 345 

treatment of, 293 

of Vietnam veterans, 47, 48, 248, 279, 
282, 287-89, 291, 344 

of World War II veterans, 285-87 
posturing, 5-9, 11, 12, 13, 21, 71, 

126-27, 181 
poverty, effect of, 303 
Pratchett, Terry, 340-41 
prisoners of war 

bombing of, 57-58, 79 

executions of, 216 

fears of, 57-58 

murder of, 199-205, 209 

uses of, 204-05 
proximity of medical treatment, 49, 269 
Prussian military, 10-11, 19 
psychiatric casualties, 43-50, 94-96. See also 
post-traumatic stress disorder 
(PTSD); trauma, psychological 

civilian victims of war, 55-57 

drugs to treat, 270-71 

fear as cause of, 51-66 

guilt and, 91 

loss of fortitude and, 83 

manifestations of, 45-48 

medical personnel, 62-64, 335 

naval combat, 58-59 

officers, 64—65 



patrols behind enemy lines, 60-62 

prisoners of war, 57-58 

treatment of, 48-50, 293 

Vietnam War, 269, 277-78 

World War II, 269 
psychological distance, 128, 160, 169, 324. 
See also emotional distance, effect of 
psychopaths, aggressive, 50, 61, 124, 
180-85, 189, 235 

as Nazi death camp officers, 78-79 

post-war behavior of, 181 
psychotic personality, 48 
PTSD. See post-traumatic stress disorder 

punishment justification, 165, 167, 339 

quick kill, 253, 257 

racism, effect of, 303. See also cultural 

raids behind enemy lines, 60-61 
Rand Corporation air-raid study, 56, 65 
rape, 77, 137, 210-11, 220-21, 285 
rationalization and acceptance 

of killing, 231, 233, 237-40, 243, 
262-80, 343 

of not killing, 233 
rear, attack from, 81. See also safe areas 
recent loss, effect of, 179, 189, 330, 342 
reconnaissance patrols, 60 
refugees, 81 
religiosity, extreme, 48 
Remarque, Erich Maria, 125 
remorse. See guilt 
resensitization, 325—32 
reserve forces, 71 
responsibility, diffusion of, 225, 295, 303. 

See also group absolution 
rest and recuperation, 49 
revenge, 179, 320 
Revolutionary War, U.S., 166 
Rhodesia, 178-79, 258, 340 
Richardson, Frank, 116 
rifled muskets, 18-19 
rifles, 9 
Rogel, William, 232 

role models, 303, 317-23 

Roman military forces, 121, 145-46, 154, 

Rorkes Drift battle, 1 1 
Rosenthal, A. M., 327 
Roupell, George, 12, 333 
Rwanda, 121 
Ryan, Cornelius, 211 

safe areas, 263, 267-68, 287-88 
sailors. See naval personnel 
Santoli, Al, 267 
scapegoats, 210-11 
schizoid trends, 48 
screams. See noise 
Seaton, Albert, 211 
secret police, 210 
self-deception, 33 
self-defense, 173, 174, 195 
self-inflicted wounds, 78 
self-preservation, 27, 225, 226 
Seligman, Martin, 81 
senses, effect of combat on, 74-75 
Sepoy Mutiny, 121, 162 
sexuality, 31—32 

aggression and, 134—37 
piercing of enemy's body, sexual 
connotations of, 121 
sexual range, killing at, 134-37 
Shalit, Ben, 31, 52-53, 136, 144, 151, 156, 

161, 171, 173, 187, 189, 273, 317 
Sherman, William Tecumseh, 74 
shoot— no shoot program, 257, 260, 315 
Sidney, Philip, 85 
Skinner, B. F., 177, 252, 253, 255, 313, 

316, 340 
sleep, lack of, 71-72 
Slim, Field Marshal, 112, 235 
smell, sense of, 74 
smoothbore muskets, 10, 19 
snipers, 108-09, 336, 340 
combat fixation of, 235 
training of, 254—55 
in Vietnam War, 172-73 
social distance, 158, 160, 167-69, 188, 209 
social learning, 303, 306, 317-22 



social support structure, 264, 274-80, 293, 
294, 334-35, 340-41. See also 
condemnation, of Vietnam veterans 
for leaders, 91 
post-traumatic stress disorder and, 283, 

285, 287, 289, 345 
for World War II veterans, 286-87 
sociopaths, 180, 182-83, 185, 321, 340 
Soldier of Fortune magazine, 343 
Somalia, 258 
Somme, Battle of, 122 
Soviet Union, 212, 215 
spears, use of, 120-21 
special forces, 61, 68, 129, 180, 257 
Spiegel, H. X., 335 
stabbing, 98, 336 
Staff, Peter, 109-10 

Stellman, Jeanne and Steven, 283, 284, 293 
Stewart, Harry, 116, 336 
Stockholm syndrome, 159 
Stouffer, S. A., 53, 162, 344, 345 
Strasser, Peter, 164 
Strategic Bombing Survey, U.S., 80 
stress, combat, 36, 44-45, 48, 61-62, 66, 76 
aggression and, 77 
exhaustion and, 70 
fear as factor in, 52, 53 
psychiatric casualties caused by, 95 
training for, 68, 81-82 
in Vietnam War, 271 
Stuart-Smyth, Alan, 146, 217-21 
sublimation, 324-25 
submarine crews, 108 
submission, 5-6, 15, 21-25, 71 
suicides, 78, 150 
of leaders, 148 
mass, 150 

murder-suicides, 241-43 
of Vietnam veterans, 290, 345 
Summers, Harry, 258 
superego, 37 
surrender, 147-48, 150, 174, 175-76, 

sustained combat. See continuous combat 
Swank, R. L„ 43-44, 61, 180, 181, 184, 

189, 235 
swords, use of, 121 

sympathetic nervous system, 70 

tank fire, 108 

target attractiveness, model of, 171, 295, 341 
taste, sense of, 74 
Taylor, James, 200 
technological advantages, 172 
technological distance, 169-70 
teenagers, in Vietnam War, 264-65, 287 
television, violence in, 261, 302, 308-11, 

325-30, 347 
terrorism, 207-08, 225 
Thanatos (death instinct), 37, 332 
thermal-imagery devices, 169, 172 
Thompson, Jack, 13, 234, 244 
Tiananmen Square Massacre, 215 
Toffler, Alvin, 316 
Tokyo, bombing of, 101-02 
Torah, 132, 337-39 
totalitarian governments, 210, 340 
touch, sense of, 74 
training, 18. See also conditioning 

of assassins, 306—07 

basic, 190, 317 

bayonet, 190 

Civil War, 20 

denial defense mechanisms, 255-56 

desensitization, 251-52 

for exhaustion, 67-68 

posturing, effect on, 13 

on prisoner treatment, 199, 203-04 

simulators, 177-78 

for stress, 68, 81-82 
trauma, psychological, 36, 86, 89, 343. See 
also psychiatric casualties 

amount of resistance and, 191 

of atrocities, 222-26 

of close-range killing, 115-16 

in daily lives, 76-78 

edged-weapons use and, 122, 124 

of executions, 201 

of guerrilla warfare, 198 

of hand-grenade killing, 112-13 

maximum-range killing and, 108 

of midrange killing, 112 

of nonkillers, 90, 233, 259-60 

training for, 68 



Trochu, General, 122 
Truby, D. J., 109, 174 
Truman, Harry S., 242-43 

Uhemik, Nick, 266 

United Nations, 167, 174, 217 

Vagts, Alfred, 33-34, 164-65 
veterans. See also post-traumatic stress 
disorder (PTSD) 
condemnation of. See condemnation, of 

Vietnam veterans 
cooldown period for, 271-73, 

285-86, 293 
readjustment to civilian life of, 260, 
291-92, 344, 345-46 
Veterans Administration, 96 
Vicksburg batde, 1 1 
victims. See also specific victims, e.g., 
in movies, 321 
nature of, 171-76, 189 

fortitude replenished by, 85 
role of, 264, 273-74 
video games, violence in, 261, 303, 314—16, 

323, 324, 326 
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 275, 276, 293 
Vietnam War, 38, 248-95, 340, 344-45 
atrocities in, 163, 207-08, 215. See also 

My Lai incident 
automatic weapons distribution in, 

334, 336 
close-range killing in, 116-17 
cooldown period for returning 

veterans, 271—73 
cultural distance in, 162-63 
drug use in, 269, 270-71, 345 
exhaustion in, 69 

firing rates, 35, 181, 250, 251, 344 
group role in, 268-70, 275-76, 287-88 
ineffective firing in, 12 
inescapability of, 267—68, 287—88 
killing female Vietcong in, 175 
killing of civilians in, 196-98, 265-67, 
267, 287 

kill rates, 254, 334, 336 

long-range killing in, 109 

loss of, 273-74 

medical personnel, 335 

My Lai incident. See My Lai incident 

nonkillers in, 118,259-60 

personal kills in, 114-15 

prisoners killed in, 199 

psychiatric casualties in, 269, 277-78. 
See also post-traumatic stress 
disorder (PTSD) 

rationalizing killing in, 237—40, 262—80 

snipers in, 109, 172-73, 336 

social support structure for, 274—80 

U.S. close combat superiority in, 258 

youth of combatants in, 264-67, 287 
violence in America, 299-332 

movies and, 308—11 

statistics on, 299-302, 304, 346-47 
violent ideation, institutionalization of, 252 
virtual reality, 316 

Wagenbach, James W., 276 

Wake Island batde, 147 

Waldron, Adelbert F., 172-73, 336 

war criminals, 105, 205 

Waterloo, Batde of, 122 

Watson, Peter, 25, 35, 49, 52, 149, 161, 

306, 307 
Wavell, Lord, 51 
weather, effect of, 69, 72-73, 94 
Weinberg, S. K., 335 
Weinberger, Caspar, 292 
Weinberger doctrine, 292 
Weinstein, E. A., 335 
Well of Fortitude, 83-86 
Whitdesey, C. W., 148 
Willis, Captain, 118, 155 
will to fight, 80 
Wilson, James Q., 301 
Wilson, Woodrow, 226 
Wind of Hate, 65, 66, 76-82, 80, 95, 

Wissembourg, Batde of, 12 
women. See also rape 

killing of, 174-75, 266 

as scapegoats, 210—11 



Wood, Evelyn, 31 
World War I 

artillery bombardments, 80 

edged-weapons combat in, 122, 
123-24, 125 

ending of, 273-74 

exhaustion in, 69, 86 

fraternization with enemy, 160 

gas used in, 95, 331 

hand grenades used in, 112-13 

ineffective firing in, 12 

Lost Battalion, 148 

machine guns in, 154 

nobility in, 195-96 

nonfirers in, 27-28, 34 

psychiatric casualties in, 44 

snipers, 108-09 

surrendering Germans killed in, 175-76 

treatment of surrendering soldiers in, 200 
World War II. See also Nazis 

air combat in, 184 

atrocities in, 211, 215-16 

bayonets used in, 126 

bombings in, 55-57, 65, 80, 99-102, 

104, 105 
bonding in, 269 
cooldown period, 272, 285-86 
cultural distance in, 161-62, 163 
exhaustion in, 69, 71-72, 85-86 
fear acceptable in, 53 
firing rates, 3-4, 15-16, 144, 153, 

181, 333 
fraternization with enemy, 158-59 
killing rates, 30, 110, 161-62, 184-85 
knife killing in, 130 
leadership in, 147 
nonfirers in, 3-4, 15-16 
nonkillers in, 118 
pilots, killing by, 30, 110 
post-traumatic stress disorder after, 

prisoner treatment in, 204, 205 
psychiatric casualties in, 43-44, 269 
punishment justification in, 165 

Young, Peter, 174 



$16.00 L 

$22.00 in Can, 

The good news is that the vast majority of soldiers are 
loath to kill in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using 
Pavlovian and operant conditioning, have developed 
sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. 
The psychological cost for soldiers, as witnessed by the 
increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The 
psychological cost for the rest of us is even more so: 
contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, 
replicates the army's conditioning techniques and, according 
to Grossman's controversial thesis, is responsible for our 
rising rate of murder, especially among the young. 

On Killing is an important study of the techniques the 
military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, 
of how killing affects the soldier, and of the societal 
implications of escalating violence. 

"Colonel Grossman's perceptive study ends with a 

profoundly troubling observation. The desensitizing 

techniques used to train soldiers are now found in mass 

media - films, television, and video arcades — and are 

conditioning our children. His figures on youthful homicides 

strongly suggest the breeding of teenage Rambos." 

— William Manchester 

"A fine piece of work." 
— Dr. Richard Holmes, author of Acts of War 

"This important book deserves a wide readership." 
— Library Journal, starred review 

A former army Ranger and paratrooper. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman 
taught psychology at West Point and is currently the Professor 
of Military Science at Arkansas State University. 

ISBN 0-316-3301 1-6